I thank the Attorney-General for his response. He will be aware that victims of crime often feel let down and frustrated by the processes of the Crown Prosecution Service, particularly regarding the absence of information on their cases. Will my right hon. and learned Friend give an assurance that he will oversee the performance of the CPS, so that it can deliver a much better and joined-up service for the victims of crime?
The CPS operates under my superintendence and I regularly meet the DPP. The joint police-CPS witness care units keep—or should keep—victims and witnesses updated about their cases as they progress through the criminal justice system. The DPP has indicated that she has three priorities for her work; one of which is care and contact with victims and witnesses. In addition, a pilot is currently being run in South Yorkshire on improving services for victims and witnesses.
It looks as though I have to arbitrate the sibling rivalry. On this occasion, it will be little brother. I call Mr Keith Vaz.
A very good choice, Mr Speaker.
Last Thursday, two individuals were arrested for carrying out female genital mutilation of a five to six-week-old girl. Since 1985, not a single person has been charged for this terrible crime. Has the Attorney-General had any discussions with the DPP about why that is the case, and if he has not done so, will he do so in future?
Yes, I have had discussions with both the previous and the present Director of Public Prosecutions about this issue. It centres on the evidence. I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that if there is evidence on which a prosecution can be brought, it will be brought. The CPS takes the issue very seriously, but as he will be aware, the evidence has to be collected first by the police—and the CPS can help with that at times—and it has to cross the threshold on which a prosecution can be mounted. The difficulty in this area, as the right hon. Gentleman will be aware, is that this is a secret crime, often committed in a way and form that does not bring itself readily to public notice. I can assure him that the CPS takes this issue very seriously.
Has the Attorney-General held discussions with the DPP about the number of cases that are listed for trial but that do not go ahead because the Crown Prosecution Service has not complied with full disclosure? That is not fair to victims and not fair to the administration of justice or the taxpayer. What steps are being taken to resolve the issue, and how many such cases are there at the moment?
Yes, I have raised the matter on a number of occasions with both the previous and the present DPP. It would be best for me to write to my hon. Friend in respect of any statistics; they are not very easy to come by, unfortunately. One issue I often raise when I see some of Her Majesty’s judges on my visits to courts is a request for them to feed in to me any such examples rather than just to rely on anecdote. Nobody pretends that the CPS is a 100% efficient organisation, but I would like to take this opportunity to say that the last director left it in a much better condition than the one he inherited, and made substantial progress.
Does the Attorney-General recall that over a year ago, in relation to Hillsborough, I advised him to consider
“discussing with the DPP the value of instructing, at the outset, a senior and independent-minded Queen’s counsel to lead the review of evidence and the decision-making process on any possible prosecutions”?—[Hansard, 16 October 2012; Vol. 551, c. 157.]
He now finds himself unable to discuss Hillsborough with the current DPP, as she previously advised no further action be taken on it. Indeed, the official she nominated is also compromised. With hindsight, does the right hon. and learned Gentleman now regret not taking my advice?
In circumstances in which a potential conflict of interests might arise, there are perfectly available mechanisms for my liaison with the Crown Prosecution Service to continue. I have every confidence that this matter is being dealt with appropriately. I am also satisfied that, if there is a need for liaison between my office and the CPS, it can be readily secured with the Crown prosecutor who is dealing with the case.
Yes, we have discussed that, and we will continue to discuss it. Advocacy lies at the heart of court presentation, and advocacy that is provided in-house within the CPS must be of a high quality. There are fairly rigorous internal review mechanisms, and I think that they have contributed to a raising of standards, but I entirely agree with the right hon. Gentleman that there is more to be done.