Mr. John M. Taylor:
I have no plans to review the scheduling of cases in the Crown court. Cases are listed by court staff working under judicial guidance, within guidelines approved by the Lord Chief Justice.
Does the Parliamentary Secretary share my extreme concern at the experience of a constituent who, on arriving home on a Monday evening, found a message on her telephone answering machine saying that the extremely serious case that she was pressing was to be heard the following morning at the Old Bailey? It is not surprising that she felt so pressurised and ill prepared that she was unable to continue with it. Does the Minister agree that the court's decision was intolerable and inefficient, not to say callous? What is his Department doing—with the Attorney—General and the Home Department—to ensure the sensitive and efficient administration that is necessary to retain public confidence in the criminal justice system?
A scheme of plea and directions hearings in all cases is being planned for all Crown court centres, starting in January next. Meanwhile, the House should know that court listing is very difficult. It is only as precise as the information received from the parties involved. Sometimes a civil case scheduled for a five-day trial will settle on the court steps. In criminal cases, a defendant who says that he intends to plead not guilty all too often changes his mind at the last moment—that happens in 50 per cent. of cases.