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Thames Valley Crown Prosecution Service

Oral Answers to Questions — Solicitor-General – in the House of Commons at 10:30 am on 9th February 2006.

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Photo of Tony Baldry Tony Baldry Conservative, Banbury 10:30 am, 9th February 2006

When he next expects to meet the head of the Thames Valley Crown Prosecution Service to discuss resources.

Photo of Mike O'Brien Mike O'Brien Solicitor General, Law Officers' Department

I met the chief Crown prosecutor for Thames Valley in Oxford on 6 October. I have spoken to her several times since, including a few days ago. I do not have a date set in my diary for a further meeting. Thames Valley CPS has received a significant increase in resources and has deployed them in recruiting new front-line staff. I am pleased to say that there has been a study by the police and CPS in relation to resources at Banbury, which I hope will result in an increase there.

Photo of Tony Baldry Tony Baldry Conservative, Banbury

I hope that when the Solicitor-General met the head of Thames Valley CPS she explained that there have been several instances in Banbury magistrates court where cases have been set down for a not guilty contest, witnesses have been summonsed and fixtures have been arranged, but the case has had to be abandoned because a prosecutor has not turned up. That includes cases involving assault and burglary. That is simply unacceptable, and it is unfair to everyone involved. It is unfair to the victims, unfair to the defendants—who cannot clear their names—and unfair to the police, who have spent a lot of time working up a case only to see it abandoned. Will the Solicitor-General ensure that there are sufficient resources, and that Thames Valley CPS ensures that prosecutors turn up at court to prosecute not guilty pleas?

Photo of Mike O'Brien Mike O'Brien Solicitor General, Law Officers' Department

Since 2003 the number of prosecutors in Thames Valley has increased by 20 per cent., to 70 lawyers today. Eleven lawyers are specifically recruited to deal with issues such as charging. The CPS in the area has recently had an increase in its budget from £6 million to £7 million a year, which is one of the biggest budget increases for the CPS in the country.

The hon. Gentleman is right to say that there was an issue about certain cases—three, according to my understanding—which were subject to a pre-trial review. A request was made to vacate some dates for a trial and the CPS took the view that it would accept guilty pleas to some offences. The pleas were accepted and the cases did not proceed to trial. I have some concerns about that and have asked for a report about it. The hon. Gentleman therefore raises an issue about which I would be concerned, but I am told that an error was made, and the chief Crown prosecutor assures me that it will be rectified.