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Prosecution Policy

Volume 35: debated on Monday 17 January 1983

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asked the Attorney-General if he will make it his practice to seek from the Director of Public Prosecutions the reasons why, in answer to complaints referred to him, he concludes that the evidence is insufficient to take proceedings.

Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman aware that, following what has become known as the Burngreave incident in Sheffield, five youths who made a complaint against the police for assault were told by the Director of Public Prosecutions—as always—that there was insufficient evidence to take proceedings? Is he further aware that film taken of the incident showed that the police evidence was untrue and, in subsequent legal proceedings, the youths were awarded £2,000 plus costs in compensation? Do not such cases invite cynicism? In the absence of the discipline of having to provide reasons for rejecting complaints—on request, even if not automatically—even such cut and dried cases will never receive a fair hearing from the DPP. Will there not continue to be a yawning credibility gap among the public about the complaints procedure?

The question was whether the DPP should refer to me the cases that he had turned down. About 14,000 cases a year are referred to him. It would be impossible for me to consider each one. In cases about which he has some doubt or where he experiences difficulty, he consults me.

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that it is absolutely fundamental that the DPP—whoever holds that office—should be largely independent of the Executive or any pressure group if we are to live in the sort of democracy that we currently enjoy?

I congratulate my hon. Friend on his knighthood.

It is absolutely essential that the office of Director of Public Prosecutions remains free from any pressure from the Executive. Although I have the right of superintendence over him, during the three and a half years that I have held this office I have never had to tell him to do anything. We have always reached agreement about the proper course to be adopted.

As the all-party Home Affairs Select Committee has twice unanimously recommended that the DPP should give his reasons for refusing to proceed against police officers, is it not time that he and the Attorney-General seriously considered whether they may be wrong in their present attitude?

As the hon. Gentleman knows, the matter has been considered at great length. We believe that we have reached the proper result, especially in view of the circular issued on 4 January.

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that one objection to the proposal of the hon. Member for York (Mr. Lyon) is that if the DPP was obliged to state his reasons they may amount to no more than that the witnesses were not credible? It would be hard to make that statement, and could be damaging to witnesses.

That is certainly one reason for the present policy. Another is that there is often a public retrial of someone who would not have the protection of the courts. Thirdly, in a number of cases witnesses come forward to give their evidence in confidence. If they thought that that evidence would be disclosed outside a court of law, they would be reluctant to come forward.