Legal Services

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:53 pm on 12th February 1990.

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Photo of Keith Vaz Keith Vaz , Leicester East 4:53 pm, 12th February 1990

The service is about 23 per cent. understaffed at the moment, and the total number of posts is about 1,200, but I am sure that when the Attorney-General replies he will give us the correct, up-to-date figures. Those are the rough figures, as I see them.

Does the Attorney-General accept the proposals of the Public Accounts Committee, which would give the Director of Public Prosecutions more freedom to pay competitive rates for CPS lawyers?

Over the past three years more than £40 million has been spent out of the CPS budget on private agency lawyers. Does the Attorney-General know that an agency lawyer working full time for the CPS earns more than a CPS lawyer doing the same work? This afternoon when I spoke to the First Division Association I learnt that about £250 is the cost of an agency lawyer for a day's work in the CPS. That would give that person an income of £150,000 per year. I understand that that is more than the amount paid to any chief Crown prosecutor, except the Director of Public Prosecutions.

How can we justify the expenditure of such an enormous amount from the public sector on private solicitors? Does the Attorney-General accept that the Government are not getting value for money, given the criticisms that have been made about the calibre of the agency lawyers? What steps does the right hon. and learned Gentleman propose to improve that?

Those are important issues, but by far the most important current issue concerning the CPS arises from the evidence to the Select Committee. I found Mr. Allan Green, the Director of Public Prosecutions, a professional, honest and candid witness. In answer to a question from me he made an astonishing statement. He said: The introduction of the service was a bitter pill for some police officers to swallow. Some are not co-operating fully and might indeed be obstructing it in certain respects. These are areas in which we do need, if we are to do our job properly, very much greater effort, co-operation and willingness on the part of the police. I pressed him about who the officers were and their ranks, and asked how senior the officers obstructing the work of the CPS were. Mr. Green replied: It is a very difficult question to answer. I would say that at all ranks in the police force, from top to bottom, there will be certain people who are very much less willing to co-operate than others. His words "from top to bottom" included reference to chief constables and junior officers.

Does the Attorney-General stand by the statement of the Director of Public Prosecutions? Does he agree that there are officers at all ranks who are refusing to co-operate, hindering, or wilfully obstructing the workings of the CPS? How many officers are involved in that action? When did the Law Officers first become aware of that? I know from a conversation that I had with the Solicitor-General on Report of the Children Bill that he was aware of it in October last year. What steps has the Attorney-General taken to refer the matter to his right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary? What disciplinary action, if any, has been taken against officers who have been found to be involved in that obstruction?

I now refer to the evidence of the police. The Police Federation maintains that there is a crisis of confidence in the CPS. Its evidence stabs the CPS not only in the back but in the front. The federation has become extraordinarily bitter. It asserts that the reputation of the criminal justice system has suffered as a result of the activities of the CPS. The federation is against almost everything that the CPS has done in the past few years. It challenges the calibre of agency staff, is critical of the plea bargaining system that the CPS has adopted, and attacks CPS lawyers for failing to make applications for compensation after cases. The federation also attacks the CPS for failing to keep witnesses informed and says that the actions of the CPS have damaged the morale of police officers. It challenges the way in which the CPS has taken prosecutions and decisions about the discontinuance of prosecutions.

Does the Attorney-General accept any of the police criticisms that are set out in written evidence? Does he agree with the police that the CPS is in crisis? Has he received any representations from the Home Secretary about the matter? Does he accept the view put forward by the Association of Chief Police Officers that the police should be allowed their own solicitors in order to second-guess the decisions of the CPS? Crucially, does he accept the police statement in paragraph 1 of their evidence, that the CPS has damaged the reputation of the criminal justice system? Does he agree with the Director of Public Prosecutions or with the Police Federation?

In respect of the evidence given last week by Mr. David Owen, the chief constable of north Wales, does the right hon. and learned Gentleman support the view that the evidence given on behalf of the Association of Chief Police Officers represents Mr. Owen's own views and that he is pursuing a vendetta against the CPS, or does he accept that Mr. Owen's evidence represents the collective views of the association?