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Volume 535: debated on Tuesday 15 November 2011

The Attorney-General was asked—


1. What discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for the Home Department on the Baker report on extradition arrangements. (80645)

10. What discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for the Home Department on the Baker report on extradition arrangements. (80654)

Does the Attorney-General recall saying, in 2009, when in opposition,

“Our extradition laws are a mess. They’re one-sided. A Conservative government will re-write them”?

Will they? Or is this another example of this Government’s signature policy of promising miracles in opposition and delivering nothing in government?

The first thing the coalition Government decided to do on taking office was ask Lord Justice Scott Baker to preside over a report; of course, he was helped by others in that. We have now had that report. I will consider the recommendations that are specific to the Law Officers in conjunction with the Director of Public Prosecutions and the director of the Serious Fraud Office. That involves discussions with devolved jurisdictions. Of course, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will consult on the recommendations that touch on her responsibilities, together with other members of the Government who can provide some input.

What consideration has the Attorney-General given to implementing a forum bar to give judges more discretion in deciding whether it is in the interests of justice for cases to be tried in the UK, such as the case involving Gary McKinnon, or where the offence was committed in the UK and it is difficult for the defence to bring witnesses and evidence to a foreign jurisdiction?

The hon. Gentleman makes an important point, which is touched on in Lord Justice Scott Baker’s report, and will have to be taken into account in the Government response. He will be aware that Lord Justice Scott Baker’s proposals are guidelines, rather than an implementation of the forum bar. That is something that the Government will have to consider.

I have the misfortune to disagree with Lord Justice Scott Baker’s conclusion in relation to the standard of proof. May we have an assurance from the Attorney-General that in determining these matters proper account will be taken of the principle of reciprocity, and that it will be ensured that British citizens are not at a constitutional disadvantage in comparison with their American counterparts?

Mr right hon. and learned Friend makes another important point. Again, that is one reason why we asked for that matter to be looked into by Lord Justice Scott Baker and those who served with him. We are going to have to take account of his proposals, and I hope very much that my right hon. and learned Friend will make a contribution to that discussion.

Will my right hon. and learned Friend give the House the reaction, if any, from international counter-parties to the Baker report?

I am afraid that I cannot comment on the reaction from international counterparts. There is interest in the matter—indeed, I have been made aware of that by a number of sources, particularly in respect of people connected with the United States. Outside that, however, I cannot comment formally, and I think it is likely that any formal response would go to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary.

Bribery and Corruption

3. What recent discussions he has had with the director of the Serious Fraud Office on its procedures for investigating cases of bribery and corruption. (80647)

4. What recent discussions he has had with the Director of the Serious Fraud Office on its procedures for investigating cases of bribery and corruption. (80648)

I hold monthly meetings with the director of the Serious Fraud Office to discuss all aspects of the SFO’s work, including what it is doing to counter bribery and corruption. The Bribery Act 2010 came into force on 1 July 2011, and the SFO was well prepared for that. The SFO website provides detailed information, including joint prosecution guidance from the director of the SFO and the Director of Public Prosecutions.

No one has faced prosecution as a result of the global financial collapse. Does the Attorney-General think that that is because there was no wrongdoing, because the SFO is not doing its job, or because we need a change in the law?

I have no evidence that there is any need for a change in the law. As and when matters are brought to the attention of the police or the SFO that require investigation and that may be linked to the global collapse, they will be investigated and inquired into. She will appreciate that I am not in a position to comment on individual cases in the House for obvious reasons.

Is the Attorney-General not a little complacent, because the Bribery Act is a new measure that came into force in 2011? There is concern around the world about the way in which global markets have operated, so the SFO should at least have a look at changes that might need to be made to the law.

The law on bribery and corruption has been looked at extensively by the House, and new legislation has been enacted. I believe—and I think that this view is shared across the House—that the legislation is fit for purpose. It has been applied in one case domestically, and no doubt it will be applied in cases concerning global finance, too. As I said in response to the previous question, unfortunately, I cannot comment on individual cases, but I have seen nothing in my routine business meetings with the Serious Fraud Office to make me think that this is an area—I understand that it is of concern to the House—that has in some way been overlooked.

Following the two questions that I put to the Prime Minister on this subject, will the Attorney-General liaise with the Chancellor of the Exchequer to widen the scope of liability for criminal action against financial institutions, as in the recently passed Dodd-Frank Act in the United States, so that the concept of the presiding mind can be introduced into British law, thus greatly facilitating the prosecution of top bankers who in future behave in a disgraceful way?

I thank my right hon. Friend for that. Section 7 of the Bribery Act 2010 already goes some way in the direction of what he suggests. In addition to that, I know that the Law Commission is carrying out research into this area, and I look forward to seeing its conclusions on what changes to the law might be required.

The Attorney-General will recall that he once said about a case of bribery in Saudi Arabia that decisions balancing the national interest and the need to prosecute should lie with the director of the Serious Fraud Office alone. Indeed, as he has already said, there was cross-party support for Labour’s Bribery Act which enshrined that in law. If this is still his view, will he be instructing the Serious Fraud Office to proceed with a full investigation into the allegations by whistleblower Lieutenant Colonel Foxley of £11.5 million in kickbacks paid to senior Saudi officials? When does he expect to make a decision on the case of GPT? If he decides to stop the case, will he come to the House and explain why?

May I make two points to the hon. Lady? First, a decision on whether to investigate any matter—I am afraid I cannot comment on an individual case—is a matter for the director of the Serious Fraud Office and the Serious Fraud Office itself. Secondly, if, in the course of such an investigation, issues concerning the public interest were to come to light that required my being consulted and any decision being made, I can assure the hon. Lady that I would come to inform the House of any decision that I took, particularly if any such decision at any time were in any way to override a decision of the director of the Serious Fraud Office, or if there was a public interest matter which led to the case coming to a conclusion other than that which one might have expected.

Gang Injunctions

None, is the short answer. The Crown Prosecution Service does not have a formal role in applying for or issuing gang injunctions. Those are a civil law tool applied for by the police and local authorities and ordered by the court. A failure to comply with the terms of an injunction is not of itself a criminal offence. That said, the CPS has an interest with other agencies in tackling illegal gang activity. The hon. Lady has been at the forefront in her own constituency and in the House in helping to deal with gangs, and I commend her for that.

I am pleased that in a letter to me the Attorney-General indicated that he would be willing to look at having specialist prosecutors from the CPS to deal with gang injunctions, and I hope that we may see that happen in my own borough, Hackney. What progress has been made on the transfer between courts of ASBO applications so that they can be dealt with alongside other crimes, where that is appropriate? We have seen some problems with the reorganisation of courts in our area, which may be contributing to the delay.

From her knowledge of the subject, the hon. Lady will appreciate that there is a difference between ASBOs, which are a post-conviction instrument, and injunctions, which are anticipatory. I am not up to speed on the organisation of courts, which is a matter for HM Courts Service and the Ministry of Justice. None the less, the hon. Lady is right to point out that there is a need for co-ordination. The borough Crown prosecutor in her own constituency is now the central reporting point as far as she is concerned. I hope more progress can be made, and I am happy to discuss this further with her.

Does the Solicitor-General agree that if gang injunctions are to be effective diversionary schemes and mentors must be available? What progress is being made on that front?

As my right hon. Friend knows, the Home Secretary and the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions recently issued their report on the subject. Of course it requires a great deal of co-operation, diversion and the input of the criminal justice agencies, but we are doing our very best to ensure that this is dealt with.

European Court of Human Rights

6. What advice he has provided to ministerial colleagues on reform of the European Court of Human Rights ahead of the UK’s chairmanship of the Council of Europe. (80650)

As the Minister responsible for conduct of litigation before the European Court of Human Rights, I have been involved in the discussions on the United Kingdom’s priorities for the chairmanship, which the Minister for Europe announced to the House on 26 October.

But does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that, despite the adoption of protocol 14, with 150,000 cases still outstanding at the ECHR, equating to a backlog lasting 40 years, further reform of the system of application is clearly needed, particularly with regard to the right of individual petition?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right that the backlog is now nearly 160,000 cases. It results in long delays for applicants, including many victims of serious violations, and effectively threatens to deny them access to justice. The Government are determined to try during our chairmanship to secure agreement to a set of efficiency measures that will help the Court deal with the backlog. In particular, we want to develop practical measures to strengthen subsidiarity. Primary responsibility for implementing the convention falls on national authorities in the Council of Europe’s member states, and the Court’s role should properly be to act as a safeguard for cases where a national authority fails to implement the convention properly. I think that that can be done without removing the right of individual petition, which is an important safeguard in countries that are members of the Council but where the human rights record is not good.

In view of the Attorney-General’s last answer, what pressure will Britain bring to bear during its chairmanship on eastern European countries where the treatment of Travellers, Gypsies and Roma people is so appalling and where many of them are unable to access local courts, never mind national ones, so that what happens in the European Court of Human Rights is completely beyond them? Does he not accept the need to pressurise those national Governments who are signatories to the European convention?

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that all 47 members of the Council of Europe need to observe the terms of the convention. If there were no violations of the convention, no successful cases would be brought before the Court. There are mechanisms—the Committee of Ministers is one—for enforcing judgments that have been handed down and preventing clone cases from coming back again and again and cluttering up the Court. Individual countries can try to take a lead, as I am sure the United Kingdom can, and of course the Human Rights Commissioner is central in trying to improve standards. It is worth bearing it in mind that, despite the hiccups and difficulties, standards are improving overall, which is a measure of the extent to which the convention has been a great success.

Does the Attorney-General recognise that, in seeking support from member states for necessary reforms of the Court, it would be helpful to make it clear that Britain is seeking not to abandon or leave the European convention, but to have a Court that can effectively safeguard against serious breaches of human rights?

I entirely agree with my right hon. Friend. That point is made repeatedly by Ministers. I represented the UK two weeks ago in the European Court of Human Rights on the intervention in the case of Skoppola. I took the opportunity to get that message across very clearly in subsequent meetings with a number of people connected with the Court and the Council of Europe.

Crown Prosecution Service

7. What steps he has taken to ensure that reductions in funding for the Crown Prosecution Service do not adversely affect front-line services. (80651)

9. What steps he has taken to ensure that reductions in funding for the Crown Prosecution Service do not adversely affect front-line services. (80653)

The two key priorities of the Crown Prosecution Service over the spending review period are quality and efficiency. The CPS strategy is to protect front-line delivery. Savings were sought in the first instance from back-office functions. Savings made from the front line will be achieved through greater productivity and by maximising the gains from improved criminal justice system efficiency and better use of technology.

Under the POD system operating in the Crown courts, only the most serious cases are now allocated to an individual dedicated prosecutor. Can the Solicitor-General tell the House how many cases under that system have been dropped or delayed because evidence was not prepared in time?

No, I cannot, because the CPS deals with hundreds of thousands of cases every year. The POD system is actually in the CPS’s offices, not the Crown courts, but I take the hon. Gentleman’s point. The point of the POD system is to enable more people to have ownership of cases so that they are dealt with more efficiently.

Under the Labour Government the CPS made great progress in prosecuting domestic violence, thanks in large part to the domestic violence training given to prosecutors and the use of dedicated domestic violence prosecutors. Does the Solicitor-General agree that the cuts to the CPS have placed a huge pressure on prosecutors, with the result that dedicated domestic violence prosecutors are now too overloaded with other work to give domestic violence cases the attention they need and deserve?

I agree that the previous Government were particularly adept in dealing with domestic violence policy, and it is an area that my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General and I have taken up with alacrity. I have appeared in the Court of Appeal to deal with unduly lenient sentences relating to violence against women, particularly sexual assaults. I broadly agree with her, but I do not accept that the system is under any strain in the prosecution of domestic violence cases. There are some really dedicated and hard-working lawyers and administrative staff in the CPS working to ensure that women are safe in their homes.

On the quality and efficiency of prosecutions, will the Solicitor-General ensure that parenting orders are pursued far more often in prosecution cases when young people are successfully convicted?

We will endeavour to ensure that all appropriate orders and sentences are applied for and handed out. I am clearly not going to give a running commentary from the Dispatch Box on any particular case, but I agree with my hon. Friend’s broad point.

Domestic Violence

8. What recent assessment he has made of the effectiveness of multi-agency risk assessment conferences in improving domestic violence prosecutions. (80652)

I have not made any recent assessment of the effectiveness of multi-agency risk assessment conferences in improving domestic violence prosecutions. The most recent assessment, which the Home Office published in July, found that such conferences had the potential to improve victim safety and to reduce repeat victimisation, but that a more robust evaluation would be required. We see multi-agency working as a key component of the Crown Prosecution Service’s work to improve prosecutions in that area and to support victims, and we will continue to work with the Home Office on the matter.

Earlier this year the Attorney-General and the Solicitor-General visited Gwent police’s Onyx unit, which they declared to be one of the best in the country at delivering substantial change in the conviction rates for domestic violence and rape. The Attorney-General has repeatedly acknowledged the role that those services play, but can he confirm that he and the CPS are actively monitoring the impact of the cuts on them?

Yes, I can confirm that the CPS has very much in mind whether any areas of savings that may be made might have an adverse impact on the service that is provided to victims of violence against women and of domestic violence. My information is that the CPS does not believe that its own work has been in any way undermined or lessened by such measures. That service remains one of its high priorities, and it is a high priority for us as Law Officers as well.