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Covid-19: Crown Prosecution Service

Volume 675: debated on Monday 27 April 2020

What steps he is taking with the Attorney General to ensure the continued operation of the Crown Prosecution Service during the covid-19 outbreak. (901939)

Covid-19 poses an unprecedented challenge to our criminal justice system, but I am pleased to say that we have successfully implemented contingency plans, including in the CPS and our criminal courts, to ensure that justice continues to be administered. Important hearings such as custody cases continue to happen. We have consolidated physical hearings into a smaller number of open courts and introduced additional measures to make them clean and safe. I am in regular contact with my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General and the national Criminal Justice Board, which has set up a strategic command to oversee our response to covid-19.

I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for his answer. Across both England and Wales and in Scotland, private companies such as GEOAmey work in close proximity to and with the CPS and the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service to provide vital court services. What discussions have gone on and, indeed, what work has been done to ensure that employees working for those companies have the correct PPE, so that they can continue to do their work as safely as possible, which is vital to ensure that our justice system can continue to function?

I thank my hon. Friend. He of course knows that the GEOAmey contract in Scotland is managed entirely by the Scottish Government, but we recognise how vital it is for all frontline staff to be supplied with PPE. Arrangements are in place, for the management and movement of any prisoner who is suspected or confirmed as having covid-19, to make sure that PPE is available for those responsible. In England and Wales, HMPPS is supporting GEOAmey in its procurement of PPE, and PECS—prisoner escort and custody services—contractors are able to access the various HMPPS hubs around the country to collect additional equipment, as required.

Gwent police are hard at work, I know, in tackling criminality, including domestic violence, but with the lockdown added to the existing backlog in our court system, the people they arrest now might not be brought to court for many months and may go on to commit other crimes, so will the Secretary of State be specific about how we are going to speed up the justice system?

I thank the hon. Lady for that question. She will be glad to know that daily work is going on between my officials and Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service, the senior judiciary and the senior magistracy to make sure that we can progress more cases through both the magistrates and the Crown courts. Of immediate importance are magistrates court hearings: I want to see more of them come forward. We can do a lot of them virtually, and I know that the work being done by my hon. Friend the Minister for Crime and Policing, together with my Department, will help improve the speed of the delivery of these important cases.