Select Committee on Home Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 100-106)



  100. In relation to delays in the magistrates' and Crown Courts, the trial period has increased slightly despite a reduction in the number of committals and magistrates' courts have just failed to meet the PSA duration of cases target of 29 days. The CPS has received some criticism as the contributory factor in a variety of ways towards that. Would you comment on that?
  (Mr Calvert-Smith) There are undoubtedly areas of the country and indeed areas within areas in which, for the sorts of reasons we were trying jointly to explain to Mr Russell earlier concerning London, we have not been processing the work as we should. The introduction of the Criminal Justice Unit has, I am quite certain, had a speeding up effect. The introduction of technology, because we are in a number of areas able to e-mail the police (though not universally), has helped to speed it up, but what will really make the difference is having enough people in place actually to do a proper job. When our recruitment exercise is fully complete and they are all trained up to speed, because there is always a gap between getting people on board and making them work as efficiently as more experienced members of staff, I am quite sure that our contribution to unnecessary delay will be minimised. There is just one caveat. There is undoubtedly going to be a tension of sorts between initiatives to reduce unnecessary delay, which we all support, and initiatives designed to ensure that, for instance, persistent offenders, whether young or old, are brought to book for all or a substantial proportion of the offences they have committed. It will simply take longer to prepare those cases, longer for the police to investigate them, more identity parades, more scientific examinations and so on. Hitherto the system (for what seemed to be no doubt good reason) has tended to content itself with X number of offences. Once you have got the chap the magistrates can sentence, so that the pressure that there will be, I am quite sure, understandably (for the reasons given by Mr Winnick earlier), to bring more offences to justice against more people may militate against even speedier disposal. They may simply take longer to prepare, so that not all these targets work in sympathy with each other is what I am trying to say.

  101. That almost pre-empts my next question, which is partly the steps here which are to speed up the smooth running of the courts and earlier discussion about the new role of the CPS in sentencing and so on, all these measures will contribute towards the smooth running of the courts. Do you think they will all contribute to justice?
  (Mr Calvert-Smith) I am sure they will. Justice for defendants and justice for victims, for the reasons I attempted to explain earlier. The closer the police and the CPS work together while respecting their individual independences and responsibilities, the better it must be. Fewer people who should not be prosecuted would be prosecuted and more people who should would be, because two heads are better than one. It has been very sad over the years, and one still reads of examples, one quite high profile one recently, where one just feels that if only there had been closer working earlier a better job would have been done.

  102. Do you not think there is a danger that some people who should be prosecuted will not be prosecuted in this drive to speed up the management of the courts?
  (Mr Calvert-Smith) I suppose that is in a way related to what I was saying earlier. If the pressure gets too extreme then clearly it is going to have a deleterious effect. So far it has been focused on eliminating—and I have said it several times—unnecessary delay, wasting of time, rather than speeding it up to such an extent that you cannot do a proper job, but clearly if that were the case then we would be shouting loudly. No doubt the police would be too.

  Angela Watkinson: I am pleased to hear it.


  103. We now have some questions relating to a couple of our current inquiries, one on our drugs inquiry. We have heard evidence that a great deal of court time is taken up with legal argument over whether someone is a dealer or simply in possession of drugs. We wondered whether it is desirable to refine the definition of "supply" in order to differentiate definitively between dealing and consuming. What are your thoughts on that?
  (Mr Calvert-Smith) You have caught me pretty cold on that. I had not realised that that part of what you were inquiring into, I am ashamed to say, was as to whether to re-define dealing perhaps to make sure there was a financial element involved or supplying.

  104. You can always send us a letter on this.
  (Mr Calvert-Smith) I think probably that is what I shall do.[2]

  105. I ought to explain clearly what I am referring to. For example, we met somebody in Manchester who said he was constantly being called as an expert witness to say whether in his opinion a charge of supply was appropriate. There is a continuous argument about what the definition should be, i.e., how many tablets Ecstasy do you have to have to make you a supplier and so on. This applies particularly to Ecstasy where you are dealing mainly with young people using it for recreational use, and one tends to buy half a dozen and share them between one's friends, not for profit necessarily, but does that make one a supplier or a dealer? You can see the difficulty, with the result that you might tend to end up criminalising a lot of people who you perhaps did not intend to criminalise. It has been put to us therefore that hard and fast definitions would be desirable so that everyone knows where they stand. It has also been put to us, I have to say, that if it were to be hard and fast you would find that most people got caught for having one less than whatever the definition was. Can I leave you to wrestle with those two propositions and send us a note?

  (Mr Calvert-Smith) Certainly. Thank you very much for putting me wise to them. Clearly as much clarity as possible and as little meaningless argument over who is a dealer and who is not is desirable. I have a nasty feeling that wherever one draws the line there are going to be these arguments, because the difference between being sentenced as a user and being sentenced as a dealer will continue to be, I suspect, very large.

  106. What would be very useful would be an unambiguous note from you as to which side of that argument you come down on when you have had time for mature reflection.
  (Mr Calvert-Smith) Thank you for the time and we will be in touch.

  Bob Russell: In your reply could I ask you please not to use the phrase "recreational drug"?

  Chairman: I think that was aimed at me rather than at Mr Calvert-Smith.

  The Committee proceeded to hear evidence as part of its inquiry into past cases of abuse in children's homes. The evidence was published in the Fourth Report from the Home Affairs Committee, Session 2001-02, "The Conduct of Investigations into Past Cases of Abuse in Children's Homes", HC836-I, Ev 1-4.

  Chairman: Can I thank you and Mr Foster and Mr Przybylski for coming today and for giving evidence so clearly and helpfully.

2   See Third Report from the Home Affairs Committee, Session 2001-02, The Government's Drugs Policy: Is It Working?, HC 318-III, Ev 273. Back

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