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Volume 545: debated on Tuesday 22 May 2012

The Attorney-General was asked—

Human Trafficking (Prosecutions)

1. How many prosecutions the Crown Prosecution Service brought for human trafficking in the last 12 months. (108450)

The Crown Prosecution Service has charged and prosecuted 133 offences of human trafficking in the past 12 months, 1 May 2011 to 30 April 2012. The CPS prosecutes human trafficking-related cases under other legislation as well. The CPS is taking a number of steps to increase prosecutions, but is dependent on cases being referred for investigation by law enforcement agencies.

We have another Minister at the Dispatch Box who is also box office. May I encourage him to look at the problem where police spend time, money and effort breaking up criminal gangs of human traffickers, only for the CPS to charge them with much lesser offences, getting shorter sentences that are no deterrent to the human traffickers? It is essential that we prosecute people for human trafficking. What can the Attorney-General do?

I agree entirely with my hon. Friend that it is important that the right offences should be prosecuted, and if he wishes to draw to my attention instances where he feels that has not happened, I am always prepared to take the matter up. It is also right to point out that in deciding how to prosecute, the Crown Prosecution Service will look very carefully at all the surrounding issues, including sometimes the vulnerability of the offender, and may on occasion consider that the best way in which the public interest can be served is in prosecuting a lesser offence, but the principle must always be that the offence charged and prosecuted should meet the gravity of the crime.

I agree with the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone) and pay tribute to him for the work he does in this area. Some 100,000 people are trafficked around Europe every year. This is a cross-border crime that requires cross-border co-operation. What steps is the Attorney-General taking through the Crown Prosecution Service and the Metropolitan police to work with Interpol and Europol to find the perpetrators of this cross-border crime and make sure that they are brought to justice? It must be done on an international basis.

I agree entirely with the right hon. Gentleman. It is indeed an international crime. Within the European Union there are CPS liaison magistrates in other countries, the European Judicial Network contacts, the Serious Organised Crime Agency liaison officers and Eurojust to assist. Outside the EU the position is more complicated, but we have some liaison CPS working in a number of countries with which we have particular important links. The right hon. Gentleman will be aware that under the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012, the extraterritoriality provisions provided for in EU directives have been implemented, although they have not yet been brought into operation, so that these offences can now be prosecuted here even if they were committed abroad. Ultimately, the CPS will be dependent on the evidence produced to it. That will come from the police or SOCA, and for those reasons, the CPS, while doing its best, will always continue to be dependent on the quality of the information it gets.

Does the Attorney-General agree that just as the CPS must increase the number of prosecutions against people guilty of human trafficking, it must also stop prosecuting those who have been trafficked, such as in the case of AVN?

Yes, I agree entirely with the right hon. Gentleman. As he knows, the CPS has a process in operation, which has been echoed by the Home Office, to provide protection for those who have been trafficked. He will also be aware that, with the encouragement of all political parties, the previous Government signed up to providing protection against deportation for those who had been trafficked.

As the tragedy of human trafficking crosses all regions of the United Kingdom, what recent discussions have been held with the devolved Administrations?

I agree entirely with the hon. Gentleman. The best thing I can do is write to him. I am perfectly aware that the CPS liaises extensively with the CPS in Northern Ireland and the Lord Advocate’s Department in Scotland, and I will provide him with that information.

Rape Allegations

2. If he will take steps to increase the public profile of the work of the Crown Prosecution Service on allegations of rape made by young women. (108451)

The CPS and the specialist rape and serious sexual offences teams in every CPS area take all allegations of rape against every age group very seriously, and as a matter of general principle are keen that their work should be given the highest possible public profile. That said, they and the police have to make a judgment in each case about whether and to what extent to give publicity to it pre-trial, because quite apart from the laws of contempt and those prohibiting the identification of victims, the victim is entitled to be spared as much as possible any additional trauma beyond that caused by the rape itself.

The conviction last month of Kabeer Hassan and another man for rape and conspiracy to engage in sexual activity with a child calls into question the original CPS decision not to charge the men because the young woman was deemed not to be a credible witness. Does the Solicitor-General share my concern that the CPS’s original decision sends out a very dangerous message to other young victims of rape that they will not be believed?

If there is any good news to be had out of that terrible case, it is that the chief Crown prosecutor for the north-west, Mr. Nazir Afzal, revisited that decision, overturned it and ensured that the defendants were prosecuted, and prosecuted to conviction. I hope that the hon. Lady will be pleased by the result of that case.

Does the Solicitor-General agree that the increased number of rape crisis centres opened by the Government helped to increase the number of rape prosecutions?

Yes. It will be one of the many factors that have done so, and I hope that we will see them being better used and with greater efficiency in future.

The Solicitor-General will be aware that high profile cases often attract resource and, in particular, early involvement of the prosecution. Can he ensure that victims of rape get similar attention and profile?

Yes, I can. The specialist rape prosecuting teams and the specially trained police officers, as well as witness care units run by the CPS, are now working well together to ensure that rape victims receive the proper treatment they need.

Forced Marriage (Prosecutions)

None personally, but the Home Office recently concluded its public consultation on forced marriage and the Prime Minister has announced our intention to sign the Council of Europe’s convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence, which will require us to criminalise forced marriage. Currently, in this jurisdiction there is no specific crime of forced marriage, and offences within that term are prosecuted under, for example, the Offences Against the Person Act 1861, the Sexual Offences Act 2003, or other suitable statutes.

Every year in this country, thousands of children are subjected to the cruelty of forced marriage. The Government are quite right in what they say and they will act against this, but nothing at all was mentioned in the Queen’s Speech. Can the Solicitor-General tell us exactly when we will have a Bill in this House so that we can outlaw this barbaric practice 100%?

No, I cannot say precisely when we will have a Bill to outlaw this barbaric practice, but I can assure him that our signing of the convention will lead inexorably in that direction.

Can my hon. and learned Friend inform the House what penalties are envisaged for this terrible crime once it is made a criminal offence?

No, but the penalties will be quite severe. The only guidance I can give my hon. Friend is to look at the penalties imposed under existing convictions. For example, last year there were 42 prosecutions for forced marriage under the various statutes I have referred to, a number of which led to quite lengthy sentences.

Crown Prosecution Service Employees (York)

5. How many employees the Crown Prosecution Service has at (a) Athena house, York and (b) other locations in York. (108454)

Has the CPS consulted North Yorkshire police and the courts in York and Selby on the impact of moving staff from Athena house on administrative costs for those two bodies? If the staff have to be moved from Athena house, would not it be practical to relocate them to the offices in central York where the other York-based CPS staff are based?

Yes. As the hon. Gentleman might be aware, a consultation is taking place. An informal consultation procedure has now ended and a formal consultation procedure on any final decision on Athena house will follow. The argument for relocating a large part of the casework units to Leeds, in my judgment, cannot be argued against because, with the reduction in numbers resulting from the savings that have to be made, maintaining critical mass and having a regional hub makes sense, but I would like to reassure him that the need to maintain a presence in York is also accepted, because of its importance as the headquarters of North Yorkshire.

Order. If the hon. Lady’s intended supplementary question refers to York, it will be in order. If it does not, it will not.

Staffing numbers are a huge concern in the CPS. Will the Solicitor-General meet me to discuss what impact that might have had on the case of Mrs Swarnapali Timmann, who is concerned—

And it may not. The hon. Lady has got her point on the record, but it requires no answer. [Laughter.] I am glad that the House is in such a good mood.

Interpreters (Prosecutions)

7. If he will assess the effect on the cost of prosecutions of delays caused by the absence of an interpreter. (108456)

The CPS has no central records on the cost of court delays caused by the absence of an interpreter, but common sense tells me that such delays resulting from the absence of a necessary interpreter waste time and money.

Apparently, Jajo the rabbit is now a registered interpreter and translator. Does the Solicitor-General agree that that latest embarrassment illustrates the utter shambles that the contracting out of the interpreter and translator service has become?

What discussions is the Solicitor-General having with his colleagues in the Ministry of Justice to ensure that the contract provisions are carefully examined and, if necessary, penalties are imposed if the service is not up to the standard required?

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. I discussed that matter only this morning with colleagues in the Ministry of Justice and am assured by the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, my hon. Friend the Member for Reigate (Mr Blunt), that the contract with Applied Language Solutions is now running properly. The company has got a grip on it and we can expect nothing but progress from here on.

I do not think that that will be necessary, but perhaps in future the hon. and learned Gentleman would face the House. We would all be greatly obliged.

It is my pleasure to stand in for the shadow Attorney-General, my hon. Friend the Member for Islington South and Finsbury (Emily Thornberry)—I understand that she has informed the Attorney-General, if not the Solicitor-General. Reports from the media, the courts and interpreters themselves show that, contrary to the Solicitor-General’s briefing, problems with ALS are getting worse, not better. The MOJ intends to publish its analysis of ALS’s performance this week, based on data that I understand were collected by ALS itself. Will the Law Officers conduct their own investigation of the collapse of the interpreting and translating service in our courts, one that will put the interests of justice before the self-serving interests of the Ministry of Justice and its contractor?

No, I genuinely do not believe that to be necessary, and I think that the hon. Gentleman has been misinformed. The ALS contract is working well. If he knows of any particular instances where it is not, no doubt he will tell the Ministry of Justice about them, but I think I am prepared to believe my hon. Friends in the MOJ a little bit before I believe him.

What mechanisms exist for the CPS to communicate concerns with regard to the quality of interpretation both to the Law Officers and, indeed, to the Ministry of Justice?

The CPS can tell us; my hon. and learned Friend can tell us; he can tell the Ministry of Justice; we can tell the Ministry of Justice—[Interruption.]

The demeanour of the Solicitor-General is eccentric. I cannot account for how he performs in Her Majesty’s courts, but in the Chamber it would be helpful if he looked in the direction of the generality of Members.

Police (Criminal Allegations)

8. What recent discussions he has had with the Director of Public Prosecutions on the Crown Prosecution Service’s handling of criminal allegations against police. (108457)

I agree that allegations against police officers must be taken very seriously, and I have had discussions with the Director of Public Prosecutions about the Crown Prosecution Service’s handling of criminal allegations against the police. Any such cases are handled, as with any other case, by CPS prosecutors, who are independent of the police, applying the code for Crown Prosecutors.

As the Attorney-General knows, the case of Lynette White in south Wales, which involved bringing eight former South Wales police officers to court after 10 years on charges of perverting the course of justice, collapsed and is now the subject of two inquiries. Can he give us some idea of when they are likely to report?

I am afraid that I am not in a position to give the right hon. Lady those details, but I will see whether subsequently I can supply her with further information. I entirely agree that the case revealed some very worrying features indeed, and I can assure her that the Director of Public Prosecutions takes those aspects very seriously and wishes to get to the bottom of them. I have no doubt that we will be better informed when we have those reports.

Serious Fraud Office

9. What recent discussions he has had with the Director of the Serious Fraud Office about the future of that organisation. (108459)

I have had many, both with the new director, Mr David Green, and with his predecessor, Mr Richard Alderman. The SFO has a bright future.

In view of the really bad press that the Serious Fraud Office has been getting of late, has the Solicitor-General had an opportunity to consider the failure of the Department for Work and Pensions properly to assess the risk of fraud at A4e and, in particular, to obtain key evidence relating to internal audit documents, as identified by the National Audit Office this week? Does he believe that there is a role for the SFO in providing specialist help to Departments?

No, the Serious Fraud Office has a remit to deal with high-end fraud, international fraud and corruption. The work of the Department for Work and Pensions is a matter for the Department for Work and Pensions.

Without going into specific case details, I must ask: does not recent adverse publicity about the incompetence of the Serious Fraud Office call into question the integrity of fraud investigation in our country? Is it not a matter of utmost importance that we should address urgently?

Although, with the greatest respect, I do not entirely accept the premise of all my hon. Friend’s question, I can assure him that the Serious Fraud Office is pursuing investigations and prosecutions with competence and vigour. I appreciate that Lord Justice Thomas has had some interesting things to say about the SFO in a current case, upon which I shall not comment further.