Skip to main content

Historical Sex Abuse

Volume 592: debated on Tuesday 10 February 2015

3. What recent discussions he has had with the Chancellor of the Exchequer on funding for the Crown Prosecution Service to ensure effective prosecution of historical sex abuse cases. (907529)

The CPS is working closely with the Treasury to manage the impact of the increasing numbers of large and complex cases, including non-recent sex abuse cases, and to ensure that the CPS has the resources to prosecute serious crime effectively and efficiently. Future funding will be determined as part of the spending review process in the usual way.

The victims of historical sexual abuse have a right to justice, like anyone else, but, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman says, these cases are complex and require adequate funding. How confident is he that the CPS will be able to cope with the demands on it and can he categorically say that such cases will not be consigned to the dustbin of history for want of extra resources?

I understand the hon. Lady’s concern and it is important to put on record that every case, regardless of the alleged crime, must be considered carefully by the CPS. The CPS must conduct the appropriate tests on evidence and on public interest, and these cases should be no different in that regard. We must certainly talk about resources, but we also need to talk about what also matters to victims, which includes being listened to in the first place, ensuring that the court process is as conducive as it can be to the giving of their evidence and ensuring that those who prosecute such cases are expert in what they do. All those things are important and we must ensure that the CPS is doing them. At the moment, the CPS is engaged in doing those things.

In his answer, the Attorney-General made it clear that funding is an issue and that discussions are going on with the Chancellor. Given that, is it sensible for the Crown Prosecution Service to commit millions of pounds to a retrial of journalists from The Sun when there is clearly no realistic prospect of conviction? The money could be much better spent pursuing some of the historical sex abuse cases mentioned by the hon. Member for Lewisham East (Heidi Alexander). Are the cost of a trial and the likelihood of conviction together part of a public interest test that the Crown Prosecution Service should go through, because it seems to many people that a retrial is not justified on that basis?

My hon. Friend will understand that, as Attorney-General, I do not decide which cases should be prosecuted or commenced. He will also understand that whether there is a realistic prospect of conviction is already part of the test that the Crown Prosecution Service applies. Of course, it should also consider the public interest, which is what it has done in each and every case involving journalists—some have been convicted at the end of the process and some have been acquitted. However, I think that it is important to recognise two things. First, there should be no cases in which who a person is or what they do prevents the Crown Prosecution Service following the evidence where it leads—it should do so in every case. Secondly, some cases are complex and difficult and take time to prepare and to try, which increases their cost, but I do not think that we can say that we should not prosecute something because it is too expensive.

I welcome what the Attorney-General says, but the Director of Public Prosecutions has been to him on bended knee, begging for £50 million so that she can prosecute serious cases. Has he asked the Chancellor for that emergency funding—and if not, why not? If he has asked the Chancellor, what did he say about helping to plug the funding gap caused by the ill thought through cuts to the Crown Prosecution Service?

I do not think that the cuts to the Crown Prosecution Service have been ill thought through. They have certainly been significant, as I am afraid they had to be, given the huge economic mess we inherited when the hon. Gentleman’s party left office. We had to take those decisions, but I think that the Crown Prosecution Service has managed the reductions in its budget extremely well. It has not decided—I think that he would support this approach—not to prosecute cases where it thinks that it is appropriate to do so. However, we must recognise—the DPP recognises this in what she is saying—that there has no doubt been an increase in the number of complex and difficult historical sex abuse cases. We are talking with the Treasury about exactly that, and I am sure that it will understand the case we are making.