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Director Of Public Prosecutions

Volume 979: debated on Monday 25 February 1980

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asked the Attorney-General on how many occasions the Director of Public Prosecutions has issued circulars to chief officers of police.

The Director has authority to issue circulars to chief officers of police only in respect of the offences which he requires to be reported to him and the form such reporting should take. Four such circulars have been issued by the present Director. He has no authority to issue instructions to chief officers of police in respect of any other matters.

Will the Attorney-General then explain how his instructions about jury vetting can be enforced to those chief officers of police who are not adhering to his guidelines at the moment?

In October 1975 when the guidelines were issued the Home Office also issued a circular to chief officers of police saying that all cases in which it was intended that a check should be made should be referred to the Director of Public Prosecutions. In March 1979 it came to the attention of the Home Office and the Law Officers that the Northamptonshire police were checking all jury panels against CRO records. This information was passed on to prosecuting counsel. My predecessor expressed grave concern at the failure to follow the guidelines that had been endorsed in the circular.

The Home Office investigated this matter and in June last year received assurances through the Association of Chief Police Officers that the guidelines were being adhered to by all forces. It was not known that in Northamptonshire the former practice had been continued until last week. The Home Office is inquiring into the latest allegations. May I say that I completely disapprove of and thoroughly deprecate what has happened in Northamptonshire.

As the Home Office is inquiring into this matter would it not be constitutionally more proper if circulars to the police were issued only by, or on behalf of, the Cabinet Minister responsible to this House, namely, the Home Secretary?

The circular in question which was based upon my predecessor's guidelines was issued by the Home Office.

Will the Attorney-General confirm that it is not the role of Cabinet Ministers, whether they be Lord Chancellors or Home Secretaries, to interfere with the role of chief constables in their decisions about whether to prosecute? If that is so, what was the purpose of the Home Secretary's well-advertised meeting recently with chief constables, and did he come away with a flea in his ear? Did the Attorney-General approve of, and was he consulted about, that meeting?

I regret that the right hon. and learned Gentleman has obviously not taken on board what I said in the course of my statement last week. That meeting was at the request of the chief officers of police who asked the Home Secretary to meet them.

I am sure that the Attorney-General does not believe that we in this House are as innocent as he pretends. There is a way of inspiring an invitation, as he well knows. I asked him to confirm that it is for chief constables to decide whether to prosecute. Does the Attorney-General approve of that?

If the right hon. and learned Gentleman is suggesting that the statement that I made on behalf of the Home Secretary is not true, let him produce the evidence.


asked the Attorney-General when next he expects to meet the Director of Public Prosecutions.

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware, particularly in view of this timely appointment, of disturbing reports suggesting that inquiries into alleged police corruption under Operation Countryman are being obstructed as a result of disagreements between the DPP and senior police officers in charge of that operation? Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that it is of great importance that Operation Countryman proceeds successfully and satisfactorily? Will my right hon. and learned Friend use his influence to resolve any differences that may be obstructing this affair?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising this question, since these reports must obviously cause public anxiety. I have taken a close interest in the Countryman inquiry and there is no truth in the allegation that the DPP is blocking the investigation. He has provided a member of his staff at the inquiry headquarters at Godalming to assist with legal matters. On 1 March Mr. Peter Matthews, the chief constable of Surrey, will take over from the chief constable of Dorset, who has retired. I hope to be able to discuss the whole inquiry with Mr. Matthews very soon. The main difficulty as is often the case is the quality of the evidence which is available.

When he next sees the DPP will the Attorney-General ask the Director to explain the preposterous situation where not a single interview was ordered with any of the 300 directors of Shell and BP, named in the Bingham report annex, on evidence of criminal involvement? Will the Attorney General also take this opportunity to explain to the House why when he informed me on 9 November last year that 14,000 files had been obtained from Shell and BP he failed to say that those files had not been collected by the police and were never examined by anyone?

My statement made it quite clear that the files had not been obtained and that those were the ones that were offered as a result of the demand under the sanctions order. It is right that I unfortunately used the word "obtained" though, if I remember rightly I went on to say in the second half of the answer that it would seem—and the hon. and learned Gentleman has Hansard in front of him—that it included a great number of documents. We certainly did not have them. We were told, and I remember the phrase very clearly, that we would need a number of pantechnicons to be sent to collect them.

Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman aware that there is still great disquiet about Operation Countryman? Though the House will accept that his Department and the DPP are not blocking the inquiry will the Attorney-General comment on the allegations that the Metropolitan Police are blocking the inquiry? Can the Attorney-General tell us when the doctrine enunciated by the DPP that there must be a 50 per cent. likelihood of a jury convicting was first enunciated in his Department and by whom?

The doctrine—the DPP said 51 per cent.—is another way of putting the proposition that there must be more than a likelihood that a reasonable and impartial jury, properly directed, will convict. That is the test. It does not matter whether we use the figure of 51 per cent. or the words I have just used. There is no truth at all—I have looked into the matter with the greatest care—in the allegation that any senior officer of the Metropolitan Police force, or the City Police, who are equally involved in this inquiry, have taken any kind of blocking action. Whether there are junior police officers who in the course of the inquiry, may be exercising their right not to answer questions I do not know. However, that is a right to which they are entitled.

Has the Attorney-General had a further opportunity of considering the suggestion I made on 28 January of appointing an official to act as a prosecution ombudsman who could set public anxieties at rest in relation to prosecution decisions by looking at files that are not always available for public discussion and reporting?

That is a matter that I said I would look at. I have not yet gone further with it.