Early indications are that the Narey reforms, brought about through the Crime and Disorder Act 1998, are having a substantial effect on reducing delay and improving efficiency. They have been implemented in two stages. The first stage, which was introduced in November 1999, led to all defendants appearing before a court within days of being charged, rather than four or five weeks later, as was previously the case. That enables defendants who wish to plead guilty at the first hearing to be sentenced very quickly, often the day after charge.
The second stage, which came into effect just over a fortnight ago, ensures that defendants charged with the most serious cases, such as murder and rape, appear in front of a Crown court judge in little more than a week after charge, following a single magistrates court appearance.
I thank my hon. and learned Friend for that reply. I am sure that, like me, he realises that in more serious cases, the delays before the final resolution is achieved often cause extra distress to the individuals or the families concerned. What overall reduction in delay will be offered by a speedy Crown court appearance?
My hon. Friend is right that delay has an effect, for example, on victims and witnesses. The idea is to move such cases into the Crown court quickly. The experience in the past fortnight has been good. For example, a case was reported to me yesterday involving a rape committed on 19 January. The case was heard in the Exeter Crown court a couple of days ago, and the person will be sentenced shortly. Such swift treatment of serious cases is to be welcomed. I shall be visiting my hon. Friend's Crown Prosecution Service area in the next week or so, and I hope to get good news about swift justice there, as well.
The Narey review stressed the importance of an efficient and effective Crown Prosecution Service. At the last Solicitor-General's questions, I mentioned to the hon. and learned Gentleman that additional funding had been made available to the Crown Prosecution Service, but he knows as well as I do that the morale of the CPS has been rock bottom. I should like the Solicitor-General to answer the question that I asked him last time: will he cause to be conducted an independent review of the morale and effectiveness of the Crown Prosecution Service? If so, when, and will he put the results of that review in the public domain?
I do not accept that CPS morale is rock bottom. There were problems last year, but there has been a significant increase in funding—about 23 per cent. nationwide in the next year. The hon. Gentleman's area has hit the jackpot, as it will receive a 14 per cent. increase in real funding next year. Overall, nationwide, that means some 500 more people in the CPS to carry out prosecutions. There will be a certain number in the hon. Gentleman's area, as well. There was a problem of stress. The CPS management will re-examine that in the coming year.
I declare an interest as a practising lawyer. Bearing in mind that part two of the Narey reforms is now coming into effect, will my hon. and learned Friend learn the lesson of the procedures that took place in Northampton and other places during the experimental period, where it was found that if the process went ahead too quickly, the case that finally came to trial was deficient from the prosecution's point of view, because not all the statements and forensic evidence had been obtained? Although speedy justice is welcome, one must be careful that the full case goes before the court, not a partial case, which can lead to a miscarriage of justice either way.
I accept what my hon. Friend says. There is always tension between speedy justice on the one hand and the rights of defendants on the other. Certainly, cases must not move so quickly that the rights of defendants are prejudiced.