Legal Services

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:21 pm on 12th February 1990.

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Photo of Sir Patrick Mayhew Sir Patrick Mayhew , Tunbridge Wells 6:21 pm, 12th February 1990

The hon. Gentleman must not be mischievous. He knows perfectly well that I have a statutory relationship with the Director of Public Prosecutions—a relationship of superintendence. The director gave full evidence about the need for co-operation between the police service and the Crown prosecution service. As the professional head of the Crown prosecution service, he gave it as his view that in some areas there was less co-operation than was desirable. It is not right, especially in advance of my own evidence to the Select Committee, to ask me the kind of questions that the hon. Gentleman has been asking. I shall say only that the director, as professional head of the Crown prosecution service, is an independent public official in whose qualities—including the integrity, percipience and thoroughness of grasp that I think the hon. Gentleman would acknowledge the director has demonstrated—I have the highest confidence. Beyond that, I will not permit the hon. Gentleman to drive a wedge between myself and the police service, between myself and the Director of Public Prosecutions, or between myself and anybody else. I have come to the House to answer questions and to set forth what the Government are doing as regards the Crown prosecution service and the other legal services to which the motion refers.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his tribute to the Crown prosecution service and its staff—in particular, the staff in his own area of Leicestershire. There is much about which to be optimistic. Great progress has been made. I shall itemise some of the principal matters briefly, as other hon. Members wish to speak. Everyone knows that the service has had difficulty in recruiting enough lawyers. The director has therefore, with my full support, pursued a number of initiatives aimed at making the service more attractive to lawyers. In the last year there have been substantial improvements in pay at all grades, but in particular at Crown prosecutor and senior Crown prosecutor grades. Here the increases in the minimum and maximum salary have been 27·5 and 41 per cent. respectively—in London, 43 and 61 per cent. respectively. Those percentages relate to the initial salaries in 1986, but there were major increases during the last 12 months.

Salaries have been increased substantially all the way up the relevant scales. Senior Crown prosecutors can now earn salaries that, in some parts of the country, have led to the recruitment of equity partners from firms of solicitors in private practice. I am glad to say that there has been a vigorous and very effective recruitment advertising campaign. I dare say that hon. Members will be aware of it. The CPS is now sponsoring members of its own staff as law school students so that they may qualify as solicitors or barristers, and for all newly qualified lawyers the service now has in place a scheme by which either articles or Bar pupillage may he taken within the CPS. I take up what the hon. Member for Norwood said about earnings at the early stages of a career at the Bar, as opposed to the early stages of a career as a solicitor. Under the scheme, trainee lawyers, from the moment they undertake articles or Bar pupillage, will be paid a competitive salary—in round figures, between £9,000 and £13,000.

The CPS has already begun to benefit from this scheme, which is very much an investment for the future. The scheme should shortly begin to provide a reliable supply of thoroughly trained and well-motivated Crown prosecutors. So, there is no crisis here—and, if I may say so, I am in quite a good position to make that assertion. I see the Director of Public Prosecutions regularly and frequently to discuss the affairs of the CPS. I also see his senior staff at headquarters, and I travel the country. I have visited the service's offices up and down the country. I have been to most of its 31 areas—in some cases more than once—and my right hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General has probably been to each of the rest. On such occasions I listen to the Crown prosecutors and to their support staff, to magistrates and judges, to the police, and to everybody else assembled, including, sometimes, local journalists.

The motion speaks of continued feuding between the CPS and the police—feuding that has given rise to a "crisis of confidence" between them. That is unreal. In addition, it does great injustice to two services that the motion describes as—here I agree with it; it is only seven words out of 80, but that is something— essential parts of the criminal justice system". All human institutions are mortal and, therefore, liable to human frailties, as even the House occasionally recognises. From time to time, at local level, even in public institutions, there may be a disagreement or a muddle or a failure to do what should be done. Regrettably, this may lead to recriminations and, sometimes, to a public squabble if it gets into the courts. I do not contend that in the three years that have elapsed since the inception of the CPS this kind of thing has never happened in the relationship between the service and the police. I dare say that on occasions it has, but I hope and believe that these occasions have been rare. When they have occurred, no doubt the CPS has sometimes been at fault, and sometimes the police.

Equally, I think it quite likely that in some quarters within the police service there remains some lack of enthusiasm for the concept of a separate prosecution service. I think that that has become pretty rare, but I dare say that it still exists. When one considers the nature of the legislation that this Conservative Government introduced to give effect to the real principle of the report of the Philips Royal Commission—the separation of prosecution decisions from police functions—it is hardly surprising that, sometimes at any rate, there has been some resentment.