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Crown Prosecution Service: Access to Justice

Volume 738: debated on Thursday 19 October 2023

3. What recent assessment she has made of the effectiveness of the Crown Prosecution Service in ensuring access to justice for victims of crime. (906612)

6. What recent assessment she has made of the effectiveness of the Crown Prosecution Service in ensuring access to justice for victims of crime. (906616)

The Government are committed to ensuring that victims are treated fairly and compassionately. We know that joined-up working across the criminal justice system works, and we know that supporting victims makes a real difference. That is why we are spending four times as much on victim support as was the case in 2010.

There are victims of crime in our country who have had to wait years for their cases to come to court, who have bravely given testimony to ensure that the criminals who robbed or attacked them are convicted, and who, this week, will have to watch those criminals be bailed rather than jailed, because the prisons are too full to pass sentence against them. What message would the Attorney General like to send to those victims?

The message that I want to send to victims today is that they are very important to this Government. We want them to come forward and we want to investigate and prosecute the crimes of which they are the victims as well and as expeditiously as we can. I listened to what the Lord Chancellor had to say on Monday and I was impressed that he is putting those prison places in the right part of the system, focusing on those serving time for longer, more violent and more worrying offences, with those at the other end of the prison system—those on that revolving wheel of going in and out of prison—being treated in a different way. We want and he wants—it was clear to me that he feels this very strongly—to reduce crime, and he is making sure that the whole of the criminal justice system and the prison system works to achieve that aim.

Shockingly, according to the latest figures, more than 6,400 Crown court cases have been waiting more than two years to be heard. That is up more than two thirds on last year alone. What does the Attorney General have to say to the victims, who, to their despair, have found that their lives have been put on hold while they are waiting for justice? And what does she say to those who can no longer cope with any more delay even if that means having to let their case collapse?

I am happy to say that the hon. Gentleman and I share a local Crown prosecution area in Thames and Chiltern where the local victim attrition rate is well below the national average. It is running at about 13%. Any attrition is too high, and we want to make sure that we support victims to enable them to continue to bring their cases. That is why we have put in place about 800 independent sexual violence advisers to help those victims feel supported and able to go to trial.

A couple of weeks ago, we had a series of very distressing break-ins to small owner-manager businesses in Leighton Buzzard High Street. I know that the owners and Bedfordshire police were disappointed in the response of the CPS. Would it be possible to get the CPS together with those business owners to try to improve things in the future?

I am sorry to hear about those distressing cases. Of course, either the Solicitor General or I would be delighted to meet our hon. Friend to discuss this further.

Last month, I had the pleasure of hosting the brilliant Women’s Budget Group in Parliament for the launch of its report on gender gaps in access to civil justice. Across the board, from employment and benefits to domestic violence and housing, the report found too many women reaching crisis point before they got the help that they needed, as well as increasing numbers getting no help at all and having to represent themselves in court. Will the Attorney General raise those findings with the Justice Secretary and look at how the Government can address the disproportionate impact on women of our country’s legal aid deserts?

The right hon. Lady makes an important point. I read with interest some of the work that she had been doing with others for whom I have enormous respect in this important area. I know that she is very capable of raising those matters herself with the Justice Secretary, but I reassure her that the access of everybody to justice is very much at the top of my agenda and his.