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Attorney-General

Volume 86: debated on Monday 11 November 1985

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City Fraud

60.

asked the Attorney-General whether he has discussed the question of City fraud with the Director of Public Prosecutions; and if he will make a statement.

Yes. I frequently meet the Director of Public Prosecutions and senior members of his staff to discuss the work of his Department. The scope of these discussions includes the handling of fraud investigations generally, as well as individual cases of particular difficulty or importance.

Does the Solicitor-General recall that several months ago the Attorney-General said to a Tory Member of Parliament that he found the level of City fraud unacceptable? Since then we have had revelations about people connected with Johnson Matthey, and we now know that Peter Cameron-Webb and his associates who ran the PCW syndicate at Lloyds managed to get away with £70 million and are now living a life of luxury on the other side of the Atlantic. Why is it that the Attorney-General and the DPP seem to have one law for bankers and city financiers and another one under which, when he is called upon to nod through the Cyprus war trials, he can give the go-ahead? When Clive Ponting's case was brought before him, the Attorney-General gave the go-ahead. Is it not high time that the law of the land applied equally to everybody, financiers included?

I do not doubt that the Attorney-General expressed the view that fraud was at an unacceptable level, because any fraud is unacceptable. The law is the same for bankers, accountants, for rich and poor. The difficulty that the Attorney-General and the Director of Public Prosecutions have to face is that in some cases it is harder to acquire evidence in a form that is admissible in an English court of law. The hon. Gentleman will agree that it is desirable to have a prosecution case properly founded upon admissible evidence before proceedings are begun.

Does my hon. and learned Friend agree tht the practice of peremptory challenges in City fraud cases is being used to constitute juries which have greater difficulty in understanding the facts than they should have?

As my hon. Friend will recall, peremptory challenges were brought down from seven to three. This is not a wholly simple question. The use of the peremptory challenge has increased recently, and it is desirable to look into it. When we have the Crown Prosecution Service in being, that will be a proper means of looking at it.

Middlesex Crown Court Buildings

61.

asked the Attorney-General when he expects the old Middlesex Crown Court buildings to be reopened as a court; and if he will make a statement about the fine art contents of the building.

The work now in progess is expected to be completed by the end of 1987 and the court will re-open thereafter. While the work is in hand, the fine art collection proviously housed in the Guildhall has been removed, partly to the Kenwood museum and partly to a Clerkenwell repository.

Does my hon. and learned Friend agree that there are two great Gainsboroughs there which ought to be on public view and perhaps should remain permanently at Kenwood?

The Gainsboroughs are not in the court building at present. They are elsewhere, as I have indicated. It is not for me to say where they ought to stay: that is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment. Kenwood is a very nice place.

Police Officers (Prosecution)

62.

asked the Attorney-General when he next intends to meet the Director of Public Prosecutions to discuss arrangements for the prosecution of police officers.

The Attorney-General has frequent meetings with the Director of Public Prosecutions, at which he discusses individual cases of any nature as well as aspects of prosecuting policy.

Is the police officer who shot Mrs. Groce to be prosecuted, and if not, why not?

As the hon. Gentleman will know, a report is being prepared into that tragic occurance by the assistant chief constable of West Yorkshire. The steps to be taken thereafter will naturally depend upon the content of that report, among other things.

Is my hon. and learned Friend satisfied that when files are referred by local police authorities to the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions those files are dealt with in the office at arm's length and not by individuals who are known to the alleged miscreants? Will my hon. and learned Friend make inquiries in a particular matter to which I have drawn his attention and satisfy himself that that matter was dealt with at arm's length, and write to me about it?

The answer to my hon. Friend's second question is yes.

With regard to my hon. Friend's first question, I am certain that the director wishes to ensure that any investigation carried out in his Department takes place without any handicap whatever. I shall draw his attention to my hon. Friend's question.

May I wish the Attorney-General a speedy recovery.

Is the Solicitor-General satisfied with progress concerning the staffing of prosecutions generally? Is he aware of the deep and widespread concern about the salaries and career structure of the new prosecution service, which are not felt by the profession to be anywhere near the assurances that were given in the course of the proceedings on the Bill? Will he, before it is too late, go back to the Treasury to obtain the sort of salaries and career structure with which to start an independent prosecution service that is worthy of the name and able to attract first-class people?

I am most grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman for his good wishes to the Attorney-General, as I am sure the Attorney-General will be.

I agree that we all want an independent prosecution service, which will operate upon terms and conditions that will attract, retain and motivate people of the high quality that are needed. I note the expressions of anxiety to which the right hon. and learned Gentleman referred. I shall be seeing the trade union group again tomorrow.

Drug Smuggling

63.

asked the Attorney-General what criteria the Director of Public Prosecutions uses in determining whether to initiate prosecutions relating to alleged drug smuggling offences; and if he will make a statement.

The Director of Public Prosecutions takes the decision whether to prosecute in relation to drug offences on the basis of the general criteria for prosecution issued by my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General in February 1983, a copy of which is in the Library of the House of Commons. No special considerations apply, although the director regards any such offence as one of gravity.

Will the Solicitor-General tell us to what extent the criteria have been applied to the allegations in the Daily Mail of 24 August, which alleged that a high-ranking member of the Government was involved in cocaine smuggling? Can the Solicitor-General confirm or deny those allegations and put them to rest?

The Daily Mail was invited by the police to make available any evidence that might substantiate the story to which the hon. Gentleman refers. It was unable to do so. Neither I nor the director are aware of any evidence whatever that would substantiate the story.

Is the Solicitor-General aware that many hon. Members of this House, and certainly many members of the public, are very disturbed at the workings of the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions? Frequently, good and proper evidence is put forward, but charges are abandoned, and lesser charges are brought. That disturbs the public, it disturbs people such as myself, and it certainly disturbs observers at the trials. Will the Solicitor-General, when he next talks to the DPP, ask him either to get his house in order or to resign?

I shall talk to the Director of Public Prosecutions at a quarter to four this afternoon, but I shall not put to him the suggestion that my hon. Friend has just made. My hon. Friend's question was rather long on generalities but singularly short on particulars. If he has any particular case in mind, I shall look at it very carefully.

May I ask the Solicitor-General a sensible supplementary question? In relation to drug offences, what is the procedure for deciding whether the Director of Public Prosecutions or the solicitor for Customs and Excise takes the decision whether to prosecute?

As the hon. Gentleman knows, the director has power to call in any case that appears to be of considerable difficulty or gravity, just as any prosecuting authority has the power to refer such a case to the director. That will apply in the category of cases to which the hon. Gentleman refers. There may be cases in which drugs are involved, where statutory requirements oblige the director to take the decision himself, but the general position is as I have described it.