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Pre-Trial Reviews

Oral Answers to Questions — Solicitor-General – in the House of Commons at 11:30 am on 18th March 2004.

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Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Shadow Minister (Transport) 11:30 am, 18th March 2004

What assessment she has made of the effectiveness of pre-trial reviews in magistrates courts.

Photo of Harriet Harman Harriet Harman Solicitor General (Law Officers), Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

Pre-trial reviews are routinely used in some magistrates courts to manage the progress of trials and are a key part of the new effective trial management programme, which focuses on improving the management of cases in the criminal courts.

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Shadow Minister (Transport)

If the Solicitor-General agrees that the pre-trial reviews have a useful role to play, would it not be better if they were less haphazard and the Government encouraged a more uniform approach to all those involved?

Photo of Harriet Harman Harriet Harman Solicitor General (Law Officers), Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

Yes. Obviously, we do not want such reviews to be haphazard; we want them to be used where appropriate. In many cases it will be good for the prosecution, the defence and the courts to get together to consider whether the right witnesses have been warned and are available, to see whether disclosure has occurred and, if everything is in order, whether the court has enough time to hear the case. Such reviews will not be necessary in all cases. The point is to ensure that they occur where necessary, but otherwise not.

Photo of Humfrey Malins Humfrey Malins Conservative, Woking

The Solicitor-General will be aware that every day throughout the country thousands of pounds of taxpayers' money is wasted in magistrates courts because trials that are fixed do not take place and have to be adjourned, quite often because the Crown Prosecution Service failed to warn witnesses, to deal with disclosure or to review its files. Would it not be sensible for the Government to introduce a system of pre-trial reviews across the board in magistrates courts, rather along the lines of the Crown court system, because by doing so the prospect of all these adjourned trials recedes, and that would go some way towards solving an expensive and serious problem?

Photo of Harriet Harman Harriet Harman Solicitor General (Law Officers), Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

I agree with the hon. Gentleman's analysis of the problem. It is certainly awful if witnesses or victims turn up expecting a trial and it cannot go ahead. It is not just a question of the waste of public money; it is not the way to run the justice system. The responsibility lies with the CPS, the police and the courts, working together, to ensure that that does not happen. I am confident—this is borne out by the CPS inspectorate reports—that with more money, which has been provided, better leadership and more partnership working, the CPS is improving.