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Prosecutions (Authorisation)

Volume 977: debated on Monday 28 January 1980

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asked the Attorney-General what plans he or the Director of Public Prosecutions has to shorten the time taken by the Director of Public Prosecutions to consider whether to recommend or authorise prosecutions.

This is kept under constant review. The time varies according to the complexity of the case and other factors, including the need for further inquiries, and, in certain cases, to consult counsel. It is hoped that very soon the Director's professional staff will be up to its full complement of 72.

How can the right hon. and learned Gentleman claim that the matter is kept under constant review when, as recently as 22 November 1979, in a written reply he was unable, as was the Director of Public Prosecutions, even to supply the average time taken to consider the cases that are submitted? Does not that indicate that the Director's office is incompetently managed?

There is no way of calculating the average time without spending an appalling amount of time in doing so. Some cases are simple, some cases have to be referred to counsel for their opinion, and other cases are put before a professional officer. If the last course is taken, there is a delay of two or three weeks until the officer is able to get round to the cases because of his workload. The average would tell us nothing.

Given the need for urgency in these matters, has my right hon. and learned Friend seen the words attributed to Mr. Arthur Scargill, namely, that Lord Denning's judgment should be "totally ignored"? Will he recommend an urgent prosecution?

I have not seen the statement accredited to Mr. Scargill, and therefore I am not in a position to answer the question.

Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman agree that the delay in bringing cases to trial is a dis- grace to our judicial system? Is he aware that many innocent people who are acquitted, such as Mrs. Lightly last week, whose case is now well known, have to wait as long as eight months, by which time they often suffer from a nervous breakdown and are punished in a way with which the law cannot deal?

I think that the hon. and learned Gentleman is referring to delay between charging and final disposal. That is something that always causes anxiety to my right hon. and noble Friend. We are doing everything that we can, by increasing the number of courts, to reduce that delay. However, the increase in the number of criminal charges has been so enormous over the past few years that, inevitably, the delay is much greater than either of us would like to see.