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Inside Justice Week

Volume 465: debated on Thursday 25 October 2007

Inside Justice week is being supported by all of the Departments that the Attorney-General and I run so we are all playing a busy part. It was the idea of the Attorney-General some four years ago and its aim is to open up the criminal justice system to the public through a themed week of events, media opportunities and public engagement.

How is my hon. and learned Friend planning to promote the workings of the justice system within schools for the benefit of children and young people during Inside Justice week?

The Crown Prosecution Service does a lot of fairly regular work with schools: mock trials; talks on restorative justice; and work on domestic violence awareness. The Attorney-General will be starting the week at Deptford Green school. On Friday, I shall be going, at the request of the head teacher, Mr. Hobbs, to talk to children at the terrific Bydales sustainable technology college, which is in Marske in my constituency. I shall probably talk about the Middlesbrough community court.

Inside Justice week offers a rare and perhaps even unique opportunity for young people to take a look inside the criminal justice system. Does the Solicitor-General agree that we should maximise the number of women participating in the numerous events taking place throughout the country to ensure that as many young women as possible are encouraged to consider a career in that system?

My hon. Friend makes an important point, with which I thoroughly agree. The idea is to help young people in particular to understand that the criminal justice system is a part of keeping their neighbourhood safe, that justice is very important and is not a separate and arcane preserve, and that they have access to it, both if they need it for justice purposes and if they want to pursue a career in it.

I was slightly disappointed that the Solicitor-General did not specifically mention opening up the Attorney-General’s own office as part of Inside Justice week, because a number of puzzles still exist about how the Department works. May I ask the Solicitor-General to clear up one particular puzzle? In February, the previous Attorney-General told the Select Committee on Constitutional Affairs that he would take independent counsel’s advice on the cash-for-honours question and publish it. It turns out that neither of those things has been done. In the spirit of the openness of Inside Justice week, will she explain why?

That is a remote link to Inside Justice week, if I may say so. I would not necessarily recommend opening up the Attorney-General’s office in any physical sense, because people would probably find my neglected coffee cups there. I shall write to the hon. Gentleman about the issue that he raises, if there is anything to add to what he knows perfectly well.

I recognise that non-custodial sentences are often appropriate and, in certain circumstances, should be encouraged. My hon. and learned Friend was talking about justice a moment ago. What sort of justice is there when someone who was convicted of pushing and blinding a 96-year-old person did not receive a custodial sentence?

Order. I let it slip with the hon. Member for Cambridge (David Howarth); we are not linking the question with specific cases, because that is not what it is about.

May I first say that I welcome Inside Justice week and hope that it is a success? It looks, from the material that has been put out, that considerable emphasis has been placed on the role of the Attorney-General’s office and the Crown Prosecution Service in supporting victims. May I also urge the Solicitor-General to draw attention in this week to the role of the CPS and the Attorney-General’s office in preventing pointless prosecution? I am sure that she will agree that although they may be few in number, prosecutions of individuals for matters that are likely to appear trivial, for instance difficulties that teachers may have disciplining children or, indeed, people carrying out citizen’s arrests, as in the Bridlington chip shop case, undermine confidence in the criminal justice system. If it could be seen that the CPS and the Attorney-General’s guidelines ensured that prosecutions in such investigations were stopped at an early stage, a great deal of public reassurance would be derived.

The hon. Gentleman makes a straightforward point—there must be balanced, good judgment, in accordance with the guidelines, about who to prosecute and who to forbear from prosecuting— and I agree with him. Part of our task in Inside Justice week is to make clear the basis on which such decisions are being made.