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CPS Complex Casework Units

Volume 691: debated on Thursday 18 March 2021

Thank you very much, Mr Speaker. The Crown Prosecution Service complex casework units undertake some of the most complex and serious casework handled by the CPS. A recent report published by the Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate has found that CPS complex casework units are staffed by highly dedicated, skilled and professional teams who deliver high-quality casework, often in demanding circumstances and at short notice.

I thank the Attorney General for his answer. What is the Crown Prosecution Service doing to tackle serious crimes such as drug dealing in my Derbyshire constituency?

I thank my hon. Friend for that question. The CPS East Midlands complex casework unit recently worked on an operation called Operation Trent, which concerned prosecutions against a criminal gang for drug-related activities during 2017 and 2018. A total of 26 people were convicted, and the two main defendants were sentenced in February this year. They got sentences of 20 years and 19 years, and the majority of the other defendants in that big case received custodial sentences of between 13 years and five years.

I welcome the Attorney General to his place. The recent inspectorate report on complex case units highlighted that CCU heads are often also responsible for rape and serious sexual offence units, despite the report five years ago stating that the expectation was that RASSO units would be staffed with rape specialist prosecutors. Rape prosecution levels are at an all-time low and urgent action is needed, so will the Attorney General back our survivors support plan calling for rape to be a clear named permanent specialism within the CPS?

I thank the hon. Lady for her question. As she knows, and as we heard from the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition yesterday, we are always willing to discuss these matters and look at these issues. I am pleased that she mentions the CPS complex case units, because the CCUs are effective and efficient, and Her Majesty’s Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate found that they were managing their casework very well. While the report that she alludes to does identify some areas for improvement, that should not detract from the fact that the inspector found that there was an overall high standard of work during his inspection, and the report read very well.

I have heard what the Attorney General has said, but I am not sure that he grasps the scale of the issue. Last year, the police recorded over 55,000 rapes, but there were only 2,100 prosecutions and 1,400 convictions. The Government announced their end-to-end rape review over two years ago and we are still waiting for it, so I ask the Attorney General again: will he make rape a dedicated specialism within the CPS and will he back Labour’s survivors support plan for rape victims—or will he sit back and watch the effective decriminalisation of rape?

I do not think the emotive language that the hon. Lady uses is appropriate at all, and I have to say that that is not the case. The reality of the matter is that we have said we will always look at any ideas and suggestions. She talks about 55,000 cases, but only about 5,000 of those were actually referred to the Crown Prosecution Service. The CPS works very hard to prosecute and charge all the cases that are referred to it, and the statistics for that have gone up. Now, 65% of all rape cases that are referred to the CPS result in a charge. I suggest that she looks carefully at the CPSI report, which indicates good work in this area, although I very much acknowledge that more needs to be done.

I, too, welcome the Attorney General to his place and the Solicitor General in returning to her role as well. I know that the Committee will look forward to constructive engagement with both of them.

The Attorney General will know that there is particular concern about the backlog that exists in complex cases because of the difficulty in finding courtrooms, in the current circumstances, that have the capacity to try multi-handed, lengthy cases, particularly where people are in custody. Most of those are complex matters, and they are likely to grow. What discussions is he having with the Lord Chancellor, and with Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service and the judiciary more broadly, to find means by which capacity can be expanded and cases of this important kind can be brought to trial more swiftly, as much as is practically possible?

I thank my hon. Friend for that question and for the work he does as Chair of the Select Committee on Justice. I am pleased that the CPS is doing all it can, as it should, along with all the other parts of the criminal justice system, to clear the backlog, which has accumulated, in large part, as a consequence of this pandemic. More staff have been hired by the CPS, thanks to an £85 million cash injection in 2019 from the Government and another £23 million last year from the Government also to support the CPS. However, he is right to highlight this point. I regularly meet people from across the criminal justice system to work on this issue of clearing the backlog as effectively and efficiently as possible.