HC Deb 14 January 2004 vol 416 cc791-3W
Mr. George Osborne

To ask the Solicitor General (1) if she will make a statement on the implications of the Angela Cannings case for the Crown Prosecution Service; [144510]

(2) what guidance she has issued to Chief Crown prosecutors about cases involving mothers accused of killing their infant children; and whether she expects to issue new guidance; [144511]

(3) how many mothers were charged with infanticide in each of the last 20 years; and how many mothers were charged with murder of their own children in each of the last 20 years; [144512]

(4) if the Crown Prosecution Service will review family court cases in which evidence was given by Professor Meadow; [144516]

(5) when the inter-departmental group she established to consider the implications of the Sally Clarke case will decide whether to review cases involving Professor Meadow; [144517]

(6) in how many family court cases evidence was given by Professor Meadow; [144518]

(7) when she expects the Crown Prosecution Service to conclude its review of the cases in which Dr. Alan Williams conducted a post mortem; [144519]

(8) what the total cost to public funds of the prosecution of Sally Clarke, Angela Cannings and Trupti Patel has been. [144524]

The Solicitor-General

We are awaiting the full written judgment of the Court of Appeal in the Angela Cannings case and therefore it is not possible to make a detailed statement on the implications at this stage.

At the Court of Appeal hearing, Lord Justice Judge expressed concern about the difficulties for the trial jury in resolving issues regarding complex scientific evidence in relation to infant death when the present state of scientific knowledge is evolving.

He went on to state that the appeal had raised a number of issues of general public interest in relation to infant deaths and the Court of Appeal would therefore need time to reflect on the terms of its judgment.

The Crown Prosecution Service has taken note of these comments and will study the full judgment carefully when it is released.

Since the written reasons of the Court of Appeal in the case of Sally Clark were made available, and following the acquittal of Trupti Patel, the Crown Prosecution Service has undertaken a number of actions. Interim guidance was sent to all Chief Crown Prosecutors on 17 June 2003 requesting that all cases be identified in which either Doctor Williams or Professor Meadow are witnesses and requiring them to serve a copy of the judgement in the Sally Clark case on the defence and to draw attention to sections of the judgement touching on their evidence.

Following the appeal of Sally Clark, the Attorney General established a Group comprising representatives of the police, Crown Prosecution Service, Home Office and other relevant agencies to consider whether any cases in which Doctor Williams has given important evidence require a more in depth review.

On 28 July, the Group held its first meeting. Progress was made in two areas. Firstly, on how previous cases in which Doctor Alan Williams conducted a post mortem were to be identified and, secondly, what factors would be used to select the cases on which the Group should concentrate.

Following that meeting, work commenced immediately on the identification of relevant cases. The Group met a deadline of mid-September for the conclusion of that process. By that date, approximately 50 previous cases had been identified, which dated back between five-seven years. These cases all involved charges of murder, manslaughter or infanticide where Doctor Williams had been instructed by the police to conduct the post mortem and which had resulted in a conviction. The cases themselves are now being individually reviewed. An experienced Metropolitan police officer and a Crown Prosecutor are conducting the review. This work is continuing.

When the full written judgement in Angela Cannings is published, the same group will consider whether to extend the review to include cases involving Professor Meadow.

The total cost incurred by the Crown Prosecution Service in the case of Sally Clark will eventually be approximately £320,000. That figure comprises counsels' fees, expert witness costs and approximately £50,000 is estimated as being attributable to Crown Prosecution Service staff costs.

The costs of the Trupti Patel case are approximately £183,716.63. We cannot provide an estimate of CPS costs for this case at this stage, however, I will write to the hon. Member with those details once known.

The costs of the Angela Cannings case have not yet been settled. However, it is estimated that prosecution costs arising from the original trial and the subsequent appeal will be in the region of £220,000.

Owing to the way CPS records arc kept, figures on the number of mothers charged with infanticide and mothers charged with the murder of their own children cannot be produced without incurring disproportionate costs.

The Crown Prosecution Service was set up by the Prosecution of Offences Act 1985 to take over the conduct of criminal cases instituted by the police (other than some minor cases). It has no statutory power to initiate a review of family court cases in which evidence was given by Professor Meadow.

Information on the number of cases in the Family Court in which Professor Meadow has given evidence is not held centrally. The Crown is not usually party to Family Court cases.

No guidance to Crown. Prosecutors relating specifically to mothers accused of killing their infant children has been issued.