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Crown Prosecution Service (South-west)

Volume 512: debated on Tuesday 22 June 2010

2. What recent assessment he has made of the performance of the Crown Prosecution Service in the south-west. (3378)

May I first pay tribute to my predecessors Baroness Scotland and Vera Baird QC? The Solicitor-General and I both hope that we will be able to follow their tradition in our dealings with Parliament.

The last area performance inspection of the CPS Devon and Cornwall by Her Majesty’s Crown Prosecution Service inspectorate was in July 2007. Performance was rated as good, an improvement on the previous assessment in 2005, which rated the area as poor. There is a structure for monitoring area performance, including regular performance meetings between the chief operating officer of the CPS and the area chief Crown prosecutor. The performance of CPS Devon and Cornwall for 2009-10 was assessed as poor in one indicator—proceeds of crime—good in four of 11 indicators and excellent in another four of 11 indicators.

I am grateful to my right hon. and learned Friend for his comprehensive response. Will he encourage the Crown Prosecution Service to leave behind its tick-box obsession with conviction rates, become more robust in prosecuting the perpetrators of low-level crime and antisocial behaviour and help to restore public confidence in the criminal justice system?

I am very much aware that my hon. Friend has taken a close personal interest in this issue in his area. He will understand that each case must be scrutinised by a prosecutor under the tests set out in the code for Crown prosecutors. There is a duty in each case to keep that under review, in accordance with the evidence available. In some cases, if the police provide more information, that can result in a charge having to be reduced and, in some cases, lesser pleas accepted. But I agree with my hon. Friend that errors can happen, and if a case is brought to his attention that troubles him in this respect, he should, of course, contact me or the Solicitor-General and we will ensure that it is inquired into.

Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman agree that the success of the CPS cannot always be judged by prosecution and, indeed, conviction rates? May I urge him to look at what has been done in Bristol to tackle the problem of on-street sex work? We are using conditional cautions, and the CPS is working with projects such as One25 to try to tackle the root cause of the problem, rather than just taking it through the courts over and again.

Yes, I entirely agree with the hon. Lady. Good work is being done by the CPS, in conjunction with the police, to try to ensure that crime of that nature is reduced without necessarily going through the courts. Equally, it is right to say—the CPS understands this very well—that the use of conditional cautions must not serve as a device to avoid proper convictions being recorded in court against people who ought to be brought before the courts.