Clause 10 — Consent to prosecution

Part of Business of the House – in the House of Commons at 2:31 pm on 7th April 2010.

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Photo of Jonathan Djanogly Jonathan Djanogly Shadow Minister (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Solicitor General, Shadow Minister (Justice), Shadow Solicitor General 2:31 pm, 7th April 2010

We touched on that in Committee, but from looking at the amendments, I do not believe that it is an appropriate debate to have now.

We also had concerns, as reflected in amendments 1 and 2, that in delegating powers to the directors of the prosecuting agencies, there was a danger that we would lose the opportunity for parliamentary accountability. We voiced those concerns in Committee and emphasised the lack of accountability that could arise if the directors were the decision-makers rather than the Attorney-General. Those concerns were compounded by the fact the directors themselves could delegate such powers to subordinates in their organisation.

That latter concern will be partly resolved by Government amendment 7, which we intend to accept. It is intended to ensure that the prosecutorial power in the hands of the directors of the SFO, HMRC and the DPP cannot easily be delegated to others within those organisations. Given that the volume of cases that reach prosecution each year is, I am told, in the region of only 20, and that the Government predict a rise in that number of only some 1.3 cases a year, we do not believe that the delegation of that important power would be appropriate, except in the most limited circumstances.

However, even with the Government amendment, we could confuse the lines of authority unless care is taken. By that, I mean that we will now have three people fulfilling a role that has previously been occupied by only one-the Attorney-General. With that increase in numbers comes the potential for conflicting prosecution policies to develop. Business and prosecutors can ill afford that if the vital need for certainty and precedent is to be upheld. We have argued that we must drive for consistency and clarity in the Bill so that the parameters of offences are clearly demarcated. Such clarity will help to ensure compliance. Little that we heard in Committee, or from various other sources, suggests that we have yet given adequate thought to the matter or put in place adequate procedures to ensure that overlap does not occur.

Of course, the matter would have been even more problematic if the directors were able to delegate down the chain of their own organisations, essentially multiplying the number of prosecutorial policies that could be followed. The Government have therefore gone some way to removing our fears through their amendment. We heard from the Minister in Committee that protocols now exist between the directors and the Attorney-General that govern the accountability of their decision making, and we will have to see how those protocols work. Although the Government amendment strengthens the position by preventing the decision-making powers from being passed down the chain, diluting accountability further, we feel that it may not go far enough.

I end by confirming that ensuring that we have a clear and workable uniform prosecution policy across the three organisations will be a priority for a Conservative Government.

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