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Departmental Visits

Volume 448: debated on Thursday 29 June 2006

21. When representatives of the Law Officers’ Department last visited another country to examine drugs courts and alternatives to custody for drug offenders. (80903)

Crown Prosecution Service representatives of the Law Officers Department visited a drugs court in New York in 2005.

May I strongly recommend to the Minister that his officials visit Australia, especially New South Wales, to see how well coercive powers are being used to get drug-offending criminals into treatment and off drugs?

I know that my hon. Friend has worked hard, particularly in Bassetlaw, to ensure that drugs-related issues are dealt with. I welcome the experience that he had when he visited New South Wales. I will ask officials to brief me fully on the powers available there, and if there are lessons to be learned no doubt we can learn them.

Will the Solicitor-General talk to his colleagues in the Department for Constitutional Affairs to see whether courts could organise their lists so that drugs cases can be taken together for a day, a week or a couple of weeks, so that there are people in court who can suggest alternative non-custodial disposals such as appropriate treatment? If we do not take some action, our prisons will be full of addicted drug offenders who will derive no great benefit and could be better served by court list and CPS activity being concentrated at one particular time.

That is an interesting idea that has been considered by some courts, particularly in the London area. It may be possible to bring certain lists together to identify support agencies and other means by which offenders can be dealt with more effectively. That is feasible in large cities where a certain number of drug offenders are going through the courts at a particular time, but in more rural areas, such as mine, it is much more difficult because courts are likely to deal with only one drug offender a day. Complex issues are involved. Nevertheless, the hon. Gentleman makes a reasonable point, and I will ensure that the DCA is made aware of it.