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Spending Review 2021: Law Officers’ Departments

Volume 706: debated on Thursday 6 January 2022

1. What assessment she has made of the implications of the Spending Review 2021 for the Law Officers’ departments. (904910)

Happy new year, Mr Speaker. May I begin by congratulating the right hon. Member for Islington South and Finsbury (Emily Thornberry) on her new role? She is familiar with the position of shadow Attorney General. I look forward to working with her in the future. The Government committed to improving performance across the criminal justice system in the spending review. For example, funding for the Crown Prosecution Service will increase by more than £80 million a year by 2025, which will be used to drive improvements in the prosecution of rape cases and to help to tackle the court backlog.

I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for her answer. What assessment has she made of the way in which that funding will support the police uplift programme, which will in turn help to deliver safer streets in towns such as Blackpool?

The Government will not rest until we have improved public safety. The recruitment of 20,000 new police officers will cut crime and get criminals off our streets. My hon. Friend will be pleased to know that there are more than 300 new police officers in Lancashire, his own region, all working to keep our community safe. Of course, the success of those extra police officers will depend on corresponding increases throughout our criminal justice system, so that we have enough resources to deal with the increased workload created. That is why I am pleased that the CPS has recruited more than 300 more prosecutors since 2019, thanks to the Government’s funding.

Thank you very much, Mr Speaker, and happy new year. It remains to be seen whether the funding allocated is sufficient to tackle the record backlog in court cases facing our country, but may I ask a specific question about one particular aspect of the backlog? This week, magistrates across the country will resume hearing the backlog of cases relating to breaches of covid restrictions over the last two years. Whatever we may think of that process, we know that those magistrates will be put in an impossible position if the laws that the Government are asking them to enforce are not applied equally to individuals working for the Government themselves. Will the Attorney General guarantee that, if Sue Gray concludes that covid restrictions were broken by individuals in Downing Street, there will be no barrier to those individuals facing the same legal consequences as everybody else?

The right hon. Lady makes it clear that she is more interested in scoring political points, frankly, than dealing with the court backlog. When it comes to the primary issue of the court backlog, I am very pleased to see that in the magistrates courts, where, let us be clear, the vast majority of criminal matters are dealt with, we are now seeing a fall in caseloads, going back to pre-pandemic levels. On the question that she actually asked, the process is being led appropriately by Sue Gray. That is the right response. Of course, all recommendations made by that independent process will be considered in the right way.