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Court Papers

Volume 450: debated on Thursday 12 October 2006

Statutory charging by the Crown Prosecution Service should ensure not only that the correct charge is made but that evidence and case papers are available at the first hearing. In addition, in the four pilot areas for the programme known as “Criminal justice: simple, speedy and summary”, the CPS has committed additional resources to quality-assure papers delivered to court and to the defence.

My constituent, Mr. Prokop, had his case dismissed at Milton Keynes court because he failed to turn up for the hearing. However, he claims that he never received notification of the court date. More alarmingly, when he contacted the court, it was unable to provide any evidence that the papers had ever been delivered. What action does the Solicitor-General intend to take to ensure that courts at least record the delivery of court papers?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman’s office for alerting me to this case. We have made inquiries about it, and it appears that it might be a county court case, rather than one being dealt with by the Crown Prosecution Service. If the hon. Gentleman provides me with further details of the case, I will happily look into it for him.

I thank my hon. and learned Friend for his recent visit to Nottingham, and for the impetus that he has given to our bid for a community court. Will he look further into the “Criminal justice: speedy, simple and summary” pilots and let the House know how they are going? If they are working successfully, as I believe that they are, will he consider extending them to my constituency and to the city of Nottingham?

The pilots are apparently going very well, although they started only recently, so we need to be cautious about some of the results. The improvement in guilty pleas has been quite substantial, however. The key elements that we have seen include papers arriving and being provided early to the defence, so that cases can be ready at the first hearing. The result of that has been that guilty pleas have been running at 80 per cent., as 60 per cent. have been issued at the first hearing. Half of these cases have been dealt with at the first hearing. That is a very good result. The pilots are showing that, if we simplify the process of dealing with cases, ensure that the papers get there early, or before the first hearing, we can speed up the whole criminal justice process.

If the Crown Prosecution Service is now showing itself to be much more efficient in relation to the provision of court papers—and, I assume, unused material—to ensure that trials can take place quickly, would it be worth while ensuring that some of its staff are delegated to work with the Home Office in the Special Immigration Appeals Commission process, to ensure that there is no repeat of an occurrence that we discovered this week, namely that material was not being properly disclosed in the SIAC process, leading to contradictory material being revealed in two cases? That is a serious scandal that undermines the credibility of the entire procedure.

It is the case that a problem arose in a specific case involving SIAC. It is not the case, however, that that reveals a systemic problem. It shows that problems arose in a particular example. The Government are looking into the reasons why those problems arose, but I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman’s claim that this undermines the whole system.