Crown Prosecution Service

Oral Answers to Questions — Attorney-General – in the House of Commons am 12:00 am ar 29 Ebrill 1996.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Mr Derek Spencer Mr Derek Spencer , Brighton, Pavilion

Among other things, the Crown Prosecution Service and the police are taking steps to improve the quality and timeliness of case preparation by reducing the volume of paperwork in police files and piloting the use of CPS lawyers giving on-the-spot advice in busy police stations.

Photo of Diane Abbott Diane Abbott Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

Is the Solicitor-General aware of the case of Stephen Lawrence, who was cruelly murdered by a gang of white racists three years ago, and whose parents brought a private prosecution in the absence of any action by the CPS? Is he aware how hopeless and grief-stricken his parents feel today? One of the causes of their anguish is that none of the evidence, including videos of the young men concerned boasting about killing and maiming black people, videos of them practising stabbing people with knives, the alleged murder weapon and forensic evidence, came before the jury because the judge deemed that the eyewitness was not reliable? Without any criticism of how the judge handled the case, can the hon. and learned Gentleman understand how brokenhearted the Lawrences are? Can he understand that they must now feel that, although the case ultimately fell down in court, the judge deemed that the case had been properly brought, and if the CPS had acted earlier—instead, the case had to wait for three years before it came to court—the Lawrences might have seen justice done?

Photo of Mr Derek Spencer Mr Derek Spencer , Brighton, Pavilion

We all have the deepest sympathy for the Lawrence family in their grief. I am well aware of the facts of the case because my right hon. and learned Friend and I have looked at it a number of times with counsel and senior members of the CPS. I have to say to the hon. Lady that it is of overwhelming importance that the rule of law be upheld. The plain fact of the matter is that, at the end of the day, the judge ruled that the evidence was inadmissible and, in doing so, he came to exactly the same conclusion as had been reached by the CPS much earlier—as a result of which it had declined to prosecute. In substance, the bottom line is that the judge and the CPS were of one mind.

Photo of Mr Dudley Smith Mr Dudley Smith , Warwick and Leamington

Is my hon. and learned Friend aware that we all welcome the improvements to the CPS that he and the Attorney-General have mentioned today, but is he further aware that there is still an impression among policemen and many members of the public that the Crown Prosecution Service will not take action unless it is almost certain to achieve a conviction? Will he do everything he can to encourage the service to take action in the interests of society when there is a reasonable chance of a conviction?

Photo of Mr Derek Spencer Mr Derek Spencer , Brighton, Pavilion

Those who think that the CPS requires certainty or near certainty before it will institute proceedings are utterly wrong. In 1995, 77.3 per cent. of contested cases before magistrates courts resulted in guilty verdicts, and 22.7 per cent. resulted in verdicts of not guilty. Such a dismissal rate gives the lie to the allegation that only certainties are prosecuted. The test is laid out clearly, in the code for Crown prosecutors, for everyone to see: if there is a realistic prospect of conviction, proceedings are started.