HC Deb 22 January 1998 vol 304 cc629-30W
Mr. Barnes

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will make a statement on the length of time taken between arrest and conviction of criminals. [22336]

Mr. Michael

Data on the exact period between arrest and conviction are not available. However, the magistrates courts Time Intervals Survey, published three times a year by the Lord Chancellor's Department, collects data on the time between offence and completion of magistrates courts proceedings. The latest available figures show that, in June 1997, the average time for defendants in indictable cases (including triable-either-way cases) was 132 days. This compares with 133 days in June 1996 and 132 in June 1995. Data collected by the Court Service show that the average time between committal and arraignment or start of trial in the Crown Court in 1997 was 12 weeks. This compares with 13 weeks in 1996 and 16 weeks in 1995.

The Government are determined to tackle delays in the criminal justice system. Delays impede justice, frustrate victims and bring the law into disrepute. The Government are particularly concerned by delays in dealing with persistent young offenders. A survey was recently conducted to establish a baseline for the Government's pledge to halve the time taken between arrest and sentence for persistent young offenders. That survey indicates that in 1996 the average time was 142 days. Many youth justice practitioners are already making efforts to tackle delay, with Government encouragement. My right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Chancellor wrote to the chairmen of youth court panels in May 1997 and a circular issued in October set out good practice and asked local agencies to set up fast-track schemes for persistent young offenders. The Government plan to contact youth justice practitioners in spring 1998 to find out what action has been taken to give effect to the circular's recommendations and, in particular, to establish fast-tracking schemes.

Following a public consultation exercise, the Government concluded that many of the recommendations of the Review of Delay in the Criminal Justice System had the potential substantially to reduce delay without impairing the quality of justice and accepted the majority of them. Those recommendations which require legislation are being implemented through the Crime and Disorder Bill currently before Parliament. The main recommendations relate to dealing promptly with straightforward guilty pleas, case management in magistrates' courts, Early Administrative Hearings in contested cases and starting indictable-only cases in the Crown Court.

In addition, to reinforce the effectiveness of these new procedures for case preparation and management, the Government will introduce the regime of statutory time limits for the prosecution of criminal cases provided for in the Prosecution of Offences Act 1985 but not yet implemented. Stricter time limits will be set for juvenile than adult cases and even tougher time limits will be imposed for persistent young offender cases.

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