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Death in Custody

35. Mr. Chris Bryant (Rhondda): What criteria are applied when deciding whether to prosecute where a death in police custody has occurred. [56380]

The Solicitor-General: When deciding whether to prosecute, in all cases, including those in which there has been a death in a prison or a police station, the Crown Prosecution Service applies the code for Crown prosecutors. First, it considers whether there is enough evidence to provide a realistic prospect of conviction, and, secondly, whether the prosecution is in the public interest.

Mr. Bryant: I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for that answer. I am sure that she will be delighted, as I am, that the number of deaths in custody has fallen dramatically in the last few years; indeed, it has more than halved in the last four years, which is good news. Every time there is a death in custody, however, local communities' trust in the police is undermined. How can we make sure, in any consultation process that we undergo to change the system of setting criteria, that we increase public confidence in the system to deliver justice for everyone?

The Solicitor-General: My hon. Friend is right. People need to be absolutely confident that those who work in the criminal justice system, whether in the police or in prisons, are not above the law. The Attorney-General is well aware of the concerns that have been expressed about

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prosecutions after deaths in custody. He has instigated a review and consulted and involved in that process not only the prisons, the police, the Crown Prosecution Service and the courts but the families of those who have died in custody. The state has a special responsibility for people in custody and we must make sure that the system for answering relatives' questions after someone has died in custody is open, fair and accountable.

Mr. William Cash (Stone): Would the Solicitor- General comment on the remarks made by his honour Judge Gerald Butler in 1998, when reporting at the request of the then Director of Public Prosecutions on the quality of decision making by the CPS in relation to deaths in custody? He said:

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The Solicitor-General: It is very important that the Crown Prosecution Service maintain its independence, that that be recognised, and that it make independent decisions. It is also important, however, that investigations have a measure of independence so that they can command public confidence. His honour Judge Butler, to whom the hon. Gentleman referred, has been involved in the review, which is focusing on prosecutions. He has looked at the paperwork in previous cases. The Attorney-General has gone wider and has not only looked at the different agencies involved but talked to the relatives concerned.

One of the problems is that relatives often feel left in the dark. They do not know the difference between inquest issues, they do not know what points have to be proved in a criminal court and they are, generally speaking, not told what is going on. As well as tackling delay in the system, we also look to the review to ensure that victims' relatives are kept involved in, and informed of, the process.

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Business of the House

12.35 pm

Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst): Will the Leader of the House tell us the business for next week?

The President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Robin Cook): I am pleased to announce that we will have a busy week after the Whitsun recess. The business is as follows:

Monday 10 June—Consideration in Committee and remaining stages of the National Insurance Contributions Bill.

Tuesday 11 June—Progress on remaining stages of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Bill.

Wednesday 12 June—Conclusion of remaining stages of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Bill.

Thursday 13 June—Progress on remaining stages of the Enterprise Bill.

Friday 14 June—The House will not be sitting.

The provisional business for the following week will be:

Monday 17 June—Conclusion of remaining stages of the Enterprise Bill.

Tuesday 18 June—There will be a debate on European Affairs on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Wednesday 19 June—I should like to advise the House that subject to receiving a message from the other place, the day will consist of a half-day Opposition debate until 7 o'clock, followed by a motion to concur with their Lordships on the establishment of a Joint Committee on the House of Lords.

Thursday 20 June—There will be a debate on Energy: Towards 2050, on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Friday 21 June—Private Member's Bills.

The House will also wish to know that on Tuesday 18 June 2002, there will be a debate relating to authorisation of human and veterinary medicines in European Standing Committee C.

Details of the relevant documents will be given in the Official Report.

[Tuesday 18 June 2002:

European Standing Committee C—Relevant European Union documents: 13361/01; 14591/01: Authorisation of human and veterinary medicines; 6240/02; Authorisation of traditional herbal medicinal products. Relevant European Scrutiny Committee Reports: HC 152-xii and HC 152-xxiii (2000–01)].

Mr. Forth: I thank the Leader of the House for giving us that statement. Given his legendary ability to read documents at high speed and digest every detail of their content, may I assume that he has thoroughly absorbed document HC 844, issued by the parliamentary ombudsman? Assuming that he has, I will not need to remind him of its contents. However, with your permission, Mr. Speaker, I wish to give one quotation from the report—although I could give many. On page 16, paragraph 4.13, the ombudsman says:

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and so on.

That goes to the heart of the Government's repeated claims that they are in favour of freedom of information, open government, transparency and clarity. Will the Leader of the House therefore arrange for an urgent debate to be held on the matter, because what the ombudsman says about the Government is very serious indeed? He is making serious allegations about the attitude of Ministers—and, I am sad to say, the officials under their control—to the whole process of investigation. I hope that the Leader of the House will accept that the matter merits urgent attention by the House, because it also goes to the heart of the relationship between the House and the Government. I hope that we shall receive his assurances on that subject.

May I remind the Leader of the House of what the Prime Minister said yesterday in reply to a brief exchange? Asked whether he agreed

the Prime Minister replied, rather typically:

that is, the former membership secretary of the Sedgefield constituency—

Will the Leader of the House therefore tell us whether a journal called Renewal exists, or whether he is aware of it? If it does exist, can he confirm whether it said—this is allegedly a quote from Renewal—that the Labour party had been

I raise that question because yesterday the Prime Minister stated that he did not believe the person concerned would have said that, but those words are apparently a direct quotation from that individual. In order to protect his Prime Minister, surely the Leader of the House has to make a statement as early as possible to clarify whether the Prime Minister knows about that, whether the individual said those words or whether the Prime Minister, regrettably, was unable to clarify the truth of the matter to the House.

On another matter, Lord Levy is described in a newspaper today as

I would call Lord Levy Tony's No. 1 crony—but no matter how one characterises him, is the Leader of the House satisfied that it is credible that a committee of six people, which includes Lord Levy, can vet donations to the Labour party? That is directly connected with Ministers' oft-repeated boasts that the Labour party is clean and above board with regard to donations and financial contributions.

We need to know whether the poachers and gamekeepers are indistinguishable, and whether the Labour party is serious, as it claims, about vetting its

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donations. Surely the Leader of the House, with his reputation for integrity, wants to clear that up. Can we have a brief statement from the Government about the relationship between donations to the Labour party, the committee that has been set up, and Lord Levy's role in that committee?

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