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Crown Prosecution Service

Volume 759: debated on Monday 23 February 2015


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the performance of the Crown Prosecution Service following recent cuts to its budget.

My Lords, by next year the Crown Prosecution Service will have successfully achieved cash savings of 24% since 2010-11 through structured cost reductions. By focusing on reducing the costs of accommodation, IT and HQ functions, the department has maintained or improved performance against many key performance measures.

My Lords, I thank the noble and learned Lord for his Answer. We all of course want to see the Crown Prosecution Service succeed. It has a vital role to play in our criminal justice system and, in recent years, has been particularly well led. However, as part of the cuts to which the noble and learned Lord referred and the 24% real-terms reduction in its budget, at the present time it has to advise and prosecute, among other things, some very old, serious and complex sex allegations. Does the noble and learned Lord support the recent request from the Director of Public Prosecutions for an up to £50 million increase in this year’s budget? What steps are his department taking to obtain the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s support?

My Lords, I think I am right in saying that this is the first time the noble Lord, Lord Bach, has been at the Dispatch Box in his new role as Shadow Attorney-General. I want to congratulate him on his appointment to that role. I share his view that the Crown Prosecution Service has performed exceptionally well and has been exceptionally well led in recent times. With regard to his specific question, he is absolutely right to say that there have been a number of large and complex cases, including historic child abuse, violence against women and terrorism matters. CPS officials are working closely with Her Majesty’s Treasury to analyse and manage the impact on the prosecution of the increasing number of large and complex cases to ensure that there are enough resources in place to tackle crime effectively and efficiently. The department will continue to assess and reprioritise resources where possible. Obviously, future funding will be determined as part of the spending review process in the normal way, informed by the analyses which are taking place.

My Lords, have the Government yet considered the recommendations of the recent Leveson review on efficiency in criminal proceedings, particularly concerning charging decisions, case ownership involving continuity of prosecution decision-makers and the early instruction of prosecuting counsel, and how these might help the CPS to increase efficiency within its budget? Have the Government also considered Leveson’s recommendation for 12 to 18 months of transitional funding to enable the CPS to implement the review’s proposals?

My Lords, I think it is fair to say that the Crown Prosecution Service is already doing much to improve efficiency. Obviously, we are well aware of the review undertaken by Lord Justice Leveson. The CPS finds it a very constructive piece of work. I can assure my noble friend that it is being given active consideration by the CPS.

Is the Minister aware that legal practitioners are increasingly voicing their apprehension about the efficacy of the Crown Prosecution Service? What discussions has the Minister had with the practitioners? Is he not concerned about their lack of support for the CPS?

My Lords, I have not had the discussions that the noble Lord asks about but I am sure that my right honourable friend the Attorney-General is regularly in touch with all parts of the profession that have an interest in and are working with the Crown Prosecution Service. I have mentioned the cost savings that have had to be made and it should be put on the record that it is greatly to the credit of the staff working for the Crown Prosecution Service that they have sought to make these efficiencies while maintaining quality.

My Lords, will the noble and learned Lord assure the House that, despite the financial stringencies, the criteria as to whether a case is of sufficient strength to justify prosecution remain exactly the same? Will he kindly tell the House how that role is currently enunciated?

My Lords, there is the code that is issued and I can assure the noble Lord that the tests remain the same: sufficiency of evidence that there is a realistic prospect of a conviction and, if that test is met, the ensuing public interest test. I think that that has been enunciated on a number of occasions.

Is my noble and learned friend aware that the failure of the Crown Prosecution Service to prosecute the allegations of female genital mutilation recently was greeted with despair on all sides of this House? It is a crime and the evidence is absolutely clear, yet we have been unable to prosecute a single case in this country. Is there nothing that the Government can do to ensure greater effectiveness and a greater sense of justice in this matter?

My Lords, I can assure my noble friend that it is the resolve to bring to justice those who commit female genital mutilation where there is evidence to do so. Female genital mutilation is a form of child abuse and we should recognise it as that. With regard to the trial to which my noble friend referred, it was right for the Crown Prosecution Service to put this case before the court. On three separate occasions—once before the trial and twice during the trial—the judge dismissed applications by the defence to stop the case, thereby agreeing that the evidence should be considered by the jury. The jury considered the evidence and came to a verdict, which we respect. In this year, the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta, when we have talked so much about the jury system being a bulwark of our civil liberties, it is important that the jury system does work.

Is the noble and learned Lord aware that the situation in some parts of the country, in particular the West Country, is so serious that the Criminal Bar regards the Crown Prosecution Service as being on the point of collapse? The first part of many a criminal trial is spent by barristers trying to explain to the judge why advice that had been given in writing months before in relation to important parts of the preparation, with evidence and disclosure, has not been acted on as a direct result of chronic understaffing.

My Lords, I am not aware of any specific issue with regard to the West Country but I know that efforts are certainly made to reduce the number of cases that do not go ahead on the day or very early on because of the prosecution. It is my understanding that considerable steps have been taken to improve that position.

My Lords, to what extent do the Government expect the Crown Prosecution Service to liaise with Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs about decisions to prosecute? How satisfied is the noble and learned Lord about the state of liaison between the two organisations? How satisfied are the Government about the performance of the prosecuting authorities in relation to financial crime and tax evasion in particular?

My Lords, obviously where there is evidence and the tests are met, prosecutions should be brought. I do not have any specific information on the current liaison between the Crown Prosecution Service and Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs. If there is anything of note I can find out about it and advise the noble Lord.