Mr. G. E. Mariner (Old Bailey Trial)

Part of Petition – in the House of Commons at 1:02 pm on 22 May 1981.

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Photo of Sir Patrick Mayhew Sir Patrick Mayhew , Royal Tunbridge Wells 1:02, 22 May 1981

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. It plainly is possible. I have no doubt that what he has said will be noted by the Commissioner of Police and also elsewhere. I do not think that I can say more than that.

I understand also that the listing arrangements at the Central Criminal Court have recently been reviewed. A warned list is now issued a fortnight in advance, showing all cases expected to be listed for hearing in the ensuing four weeks. Witnesses in those cases are told that they may be called upon at any time in the four-week period to attend court on one day's notice. Great efforts are being made by the judges and staff of the court to reduce its backlog of cases awaiting trial. To maintain the necessary pace of business, it is necessary to fix the date of trial only a short time in advance, but the system of warned lists and the consideration that the court staff give to personal difficulties are intended to reduce inconvenience to members of the public as far as possible.

Efforts are also made, as far as possible, to avoid listing cases for hearing when there is little possibility of their being reached that day—with the result that those concerned, including witnesses, attend court unnecessarily—while striving to provide sufficient work to ensure that courts do not stand idle at a time when strenuous efforts are being made to reduce the backlog of cases awaiting trial. To achieve these aims, it is impossible to settle court lists earlier than one day in advance. This in turn means that it is not possible to give the parties, their legal representatives and their witnesses more than one day's notice of the date of hearing.

Nevertheless, I fully recognise that the position is far from ideal. It is a consequence of the pressure of business in the higher courts, which is particularly acute in the South-Eastern circuit. This is a problem of which all those involved in the criminal justice system are very conscious, not least my right hon. and noble Friend the Lord Chancellor. It has been the subject of discussions involving the judiciary, the police and the legal profession, among others. The Lord Chancellor's Department, in consultation with the Home Office, is continually looking —with some recent success—for ways of improving the speed and efficiency with which criminal cases are processed while protecting the proper interests of both the defence and the prosecution.

I realise that this will make no difference to Mr. Mariner's position, but I hope that it shows that we are not complacent about the problems that arise from the present excessive pressures on the courts, and that we take seriously the question of securing improvements designed, among other things to overcome the kind of difficulties that occurred in the case involving the hon. Member's constituent, Mr. Mariner.

I hope that, having heard the way in which the matter has been opened up and dealt with, the hon. Gentlemen will now feel that at least the matter has been fully investigated and explained. It was regrettable, and I trust that such a thing will not happen again.