In the past six years, approximately 98 per cent. of defendants prosecuted by the Crown Prosecution Service in the magistrates courts were convicted. That figure includes defendants who pleaded guilty. The corresponding figure for Crown court cases is just over 90 per cent. However, such statistics in themselves are not comprehensive indicators of performance. My hon. Friend will be aware that this Administration have established a review of the Crown Prosecution Service under the chairmanship of Sir Iain Glidewell whose terms of reference include scrutiny of these matters.
I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for his reply. Will he advise the House what action his Department is taking in respect of co-ordination and co-operation between various prosecuting departments to prevent any errors and confusion that may arise due to the lack of co-ordination with prosecutors? Will he also take action to ensure that we speed up the rate at which outstanding cases are brought to court so that people can have the satisfaction of knowing that justice will be done?
I am glad that my hon. Friend raised this matter, because it is sometimes forgotten that there are a number of different prosecuting agencies. I became aware of and concerned about the issue not long after taking office. In the past, poor co-ordination may have occasionally caused a problem. However, in February, I introduced the prosecutors convention which promotes a closer working relationship between all major Government prosecutors who are signatories to the agreement. It provides a structured approach to co-ordinated decision making and, whenever possible, the timing of any joint public announcement of the final prosecution decisions. I regard that as a major improvement.
Rape cases have particular difficulties. They are not as easy as many other cases to prosecute so that there is a finding of guilt, particularly when the issue—as it frequently is—is consent. The Crown Prosecution Service is always deeply aware of the need to ensure that the best possible evidence is made available to the court so that the jury can reach a fair and proper verdict, but in my experience there are frequently difficulties in such cases.