HC Deb 19 October 1998 vol 317 cc933-4W
Miss McIntosh

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what plans he has to expedite the administration of justice. [54859]

Mr. Michael

This Government have a strong commitment to speeding up justice, particularly in relation to cases involving young offenders where delays have been scandalous in recent years. We aim to tackle delays throughout the criminal justice system and we have pledged to halve the time taken to deal with persistent young offenders from arrest to sentence.

Ministers across Government Departments are co-operating in encouraging all agencies to work together to cut delays. In October 1997, comprehensive guidance was issued in the circular 'Tackling Delays in the Youth Justice System'. This was prepared by six Government Departments and set out good practice to tackle delay in young offenders cases and asked local agencies to set up fast-tracking schemes for persistent young offenders. Many have responded positively: for instance, fast-track schemes for persistent young offenders have been established or are planned in 160 Youth Court areas, compared with 12 a year ago.

The Crime and Disorder Act 1998 contains a number of specific measures for speeding up the system, including provisions to enable straightforward guilty pleas to be dealt with promptly; to improve case management in magistrates courts; and allowing indictable-only cases to start in the Crown Court. Before being implemented nationwide, most of these new procedures are being piloted in Tyneside; Croydon, Bromley and Sutton; Blackburn and Burnley; North Staffordshire; Northamptonshire; and North Wales. Piloting began on 30 September and will run for six months, except for the indictable-only procedure, for which the pilots will begin in January 1999 and will run for a year.

To reinforce the effectiveness of the new procedures for case preparation and management, the Government intend to introduce overall statutory time limits for the prosecution of criminal cases, for which provision is made in the Prosecution of Offences Act 1985 but which has been improved through the Crime and Disorder Act. These time limits, which will also be piloted, will be tougher for young offenders than for adults, and tougher still for persistent young offenders.