Oral Answers to Questions — Agriculture, Fisheries and Food – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 21st December 2000.

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Photo of David Kidney David Kidney Labour, Stafford 12:00 am, 21st December 2000

If he will make a statement on progress with his plans to equip the Crown Prosecution Service with modern computer systems. [142366]

Photo of Professor Ross Cranston Professor Ross Cranston Solicitor General, Law Officers' Department

I know that my hon. Friend has long taken an interest in this matter, and I am pleased to report that the first step of the programme to equip the CPS with modern computer systems began its national roll-out to the 42 areas in November, and will be completed within the next 12 months. The Connect 42 project provides basic IT tools and enables staff to be connected to each other and the police. The project also successfully gained accreditation to the Government secure intranet, which will enable the CPS to join up electronically with its criminal justice partners.

The second step, the Compass project, will use the Connect 42 infrastructure to provide a case management system.

Photo of David Kidney David Kidney Labour, Stafford

I thank my hon. and learned Friend for his answer, and congratulate him on responding positively to my prompting. Will he confirm that a common ambition of the CPS, the police and the courts is to achieve modern and compatible computer systems so that they can speed up the processing of court cases? Does he believe that all three agencies will achieve that common ambition at about the same time—or does he think that somebody will be first and somebody else last?

Photo of Professor Ross Cranston Professor Ross Cranston Solicitor General, Law Officers' Department

Certainly, the three agencies are working together, and I confirm that things are moving forward quickly. It is not simply a matter of greater efficiency in the operation of the agencies, but a question of individual prosecutors in the CPS being able to access databases, Archbold and similar sources so that they can do their job better. The police are moving forward as well and, as I said, the programme will be in operation by next November. In my hon. Friend's own area, it will be in operation by next June, I believe.

Photo of Patrick McLoughlin Patrick McLoughlin Opposition Deputy Chief Whip (Commons)

But will the new computer system that the Solicitor-General is rolling out help in cases such as that in the Royal Courts of Justice last week? There was an attempt to get bail for Stephen Downing, only for the CPS barrister to get up and say that he had not heard about the case until 4.30 pm the day before and was leaving the country to go on holiday that day. Bail was therefore refused. Will the new system help to stop that kind of thing?

Photo of Professor Ross Cranston Professor Ross Cranston Solicitor General, Law Officers' Department

I know that the hon. Gentleman has taken a close interest in this matter, and has had a meeting with my right hon. and noble Friend the Attorney-General. The point was made that the CPS had behaved in a proper way and that the problem seemed to be with the court. Certainly, modern IT systems can help the CPS and the courts to operate more efficiently. There is no doubt that that was an unfortunate case, but things ought to get better.

Photo of Brian Iddon Brian Iddon Labour, Bolton South East

I am sure that my hon. and learned Friend will understand the extreme anger of my constituents Mr. and Mrs. Willis who were not informed by the CPS of the date of an appeal hearing here in London against the sentence of a driver who caused the death of their son Gareth by dangerous driving. Will my hon. and learned Friend express the feeling that everyone who is waiting for appeal hearing dates will be informed in future and not left in the dark?

Photo of Professor Ross Cranston Professor Ross Cranston Solicitor General, Law Officers' Department

I am not aware of the particular case raised by my hon. Friend. However, as a general principle, victims and their relatives ought to be informed of these matters. It is most unfortunate that in this case that did not happen. We have said that victims ought to be brought more centre stage in the criminal justice process and that their views ought to be taken into account. In the case of death by dangerous driving, it is especially important that their interests are taken into account.

Photo of Mr John Burnett Mr John Burnett Liberal Democrat, Torridge and West Devon

Earlier this year, a survey on the Crown Prosecution Service was published. It disclosed that morale was at rock bottom. Since then, additional funding has been made available to the CPS. Will the Solicitor-General conduct or cause to be conducted another independent survey into the CPS? If he does so, when will the results be published?

Photo of Professor Ross Cranston Professor Ross Cranston Solicitor General, Law Officers' Department

As I have confessed to the House previously, the survey showed that there was a problem of morale. I have also explained that, historically, the CPS was underfunded by the previous Government. The hon. Gentleman acknowledged that we are investing much more money in the CPS. This year, we are investing another £15.8 million and there will be an 8 per cent. real-terms increase over the next three years—I emphasise that that is a real-terms increase and will not occur merely in money terms. In addition, a pot of money containing more than £500 million is available to the various criminal justice agencies. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and the Lord Chancellor have said that the CPS claim on that pot of money is a priority. Decisions will soon be made about the matter. Inasmuch as money and resources are the problem, we are remedying the situation that we inherited from the previous Government.