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Spending Review 2020 Additional Funding

Volume 685: debated on Thursday 10 December 2020

What plans the CPS has to deliver improvements to services in (a) Northamptonshire and (b) England from the additional funding announced in the Spending Review 2020. (910026)

The Government are investing across the justice system, with a further £23 million for the CPS, on top of £85 million invested over the past two years. That investment will enable the CPS to respond effectively to the increase in caseload that we expect; we are recruiting 20,000 new police officers. That will strengthen our response to things like rape and serious sexual offences.

Investing in the CPS demonstrates this Government’s commitment to securing justice for victims of crime. I am pleased to say that funding will support the recruitment of new roles across England and Wales, including in CPS East Midlands, which covers Northamptonshire—both my county and my hon. Friend’s county.

Advocates for defendants at Northampton Crown court are regularly using the fact that their client has waited so long for justice during the pandemic as mitigation when seeking a lesser sentence from the judge. How is the Crown Prosecution Service countering such pleas so that convicted criminals receive the tougher sentences that the public want to see?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for mentioning Northampton Crown court, at which I appeared for many years, both prosecuting and defending. Sentencing is a matter for the courts. The CPS prosecutors will assist the courts when it comes to sentencing to ensure that all relevant factors are brought to the court’s attention when considering a sentence.

Courts do have to have regard to guidance that the Sentencing Council publishes on sentencing principles, including during the covid pandemic. That includes advice that each case must be considered on its own facts. The court has an obligation—my hon. Friend is right to raise this—to protect the public and victims of crime, and sentencing by our judiciary is actually very robust. It is right, though, that judges hear mitigating features as well as aggravating features. They do that, and they sentence accordingly.

The Government should be commended for bringing down the number of outstanding Crown court cases, prior to covid, to a 10-year low, but of course the social distancing requirements of covid have changed the situation. Is the Crown court system now keeping up with the current inflow of cases? If not, how are the Government going to get a handle on the backlog?

I thank my hon. Friend for his question, which is well made. We have unlocked vital capacity by opening 16 so-called Nightingale courts to provide 29 extra courtrooms, 10 of which are being used for non-custodial types of cases and jury trials. We are continuing to open more Nightingale courts. We are spending £110 million on a range of emergency measures to help courts to tackle the impact of covid-19. We have recruited 1,600 additional staff, who are using the cloud video platform, and that continues to increase: virtual hearings are taking place more than ever. That has now been rolled out to over 150 magistrates courts and about 70 Crown courts. A lot of work is being done to increase capacity, but my hon. Friend is very right to raise this.