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The Minister for School Standards (Mr. David Miliband): We encourage business to establish strong partnerships with schools, whether as sponsors, governors or mentors, or for the purposes of work experience, and that is done on a philanthropic basis.
Mr. Bellingham : I am very pleased to hear that from the Minister, and I am pleased that he had the chance to answer the question, but is it true that the noble Lord Levy was involved in a secret meeting at his Department on 21 January 2004 to discuss private companies taking over secondary schools and running them for profit?
Mr. Miliband: It does not sound like a very secret meeting, but Lord Levy certainly did not attend a meeting at the Department for Education and Skills on 21 January, and there is absolutely no possibility of the Government introducing the principle that schools should be run for profit by private companies. I am happy to make that clear to the House.
The Solicitor-General (Ms Harriet Harman): Pre-trial reviews are routinely used in some magistrates courts to manage the progress of trials and are a key part of the new effective trial management programme, which focuses on improving the management of cases in the criminal courts.
Miss McIntosh : If the Solicitor-General agrees that the pre-trial reviews have a useful role to play, would it not be better if they were less haphazard and the Government encouraged a more uniform approach to all those involved?
Mr. Humfrey Malins (Woking) (Con): The Solicitor-General will be aware that every day throughout the country thousands of pounds of taxpayers' money is wasted in magistrates courts because trials that are fixed do not take place and have to be adjourned, quite often because the Crown Prosecution Service failed to warn witnesses, to deal with disclosure or to review its files. Would it not be sensible for the Government to introduce a system of pre-trial reviews across the board in magistrates courts, rather along the lines of the Crown court system, because by doing so the prospect of all these adjourned trials recedes, and that would go some way towards solving an expensive and serious problem?
The Solicitor-General: I agree with the hon. Gentleman's analysis of the problem. It is certainly awful if witnesses or victims turn up expecting a trial and it cannot go ahead. It is not just a question of the waste of public money; it is not the way to run the justice system. The responsibility lies with the CPS, the police and the courts, working together, to ensure that that does not happen. I am confidentthis is borne out by the CPS inspectorate reportsthat with more money, which has been provided, better leadership and more partnership working, the CPS is improving.
The Solicitor-General: The role of the CPS in terrorist cases is to advise the police on charges, to decide whether to prosecute, to keep the case under review and to prosecute the case when it comes to court.
Mr. Heath : If we are to see novel methods of trial, does the Solicitor-General agree that that involves new risks of miscarriage of justice and new needs for safeguards? If members of the CPS were to be embedded in investigative teams and perhaps have some role in directing investigations, would it not inevitably colour their judgment of the value of the evidence provided, and in such circumstances would evidence always be submitted to the Director of Public Prosecutions before a prosecution was mounted?
The Solicitor-General: The hon. Gentleman raises several important points. I can assure him that two safeguards are in place as regards any change to trial systems. Such proposals would, first, have to come before this House for its approval following debate and discussion; and, secondly, they would have to be
As for whether closer work between the Crown Prosecution Service and the police could contaminate the independence of the CPS, the answer is emphatically no. It is a good idea for the police to have early advice on the nature of the charge and what evidence would be admissible. That does not impede the independence of the Crown Prosecution Service, but it will ensure that the police are able effectively to progress the investigation and that the trial works properly.
The Solicitor-General: Several mechanisms are in place to inform interested parties that a case is to be heard. The Court of Appeal sends a written notification of the hearing date to the applicant, the appellant, the prison governor, the prosecuting authority, counsel, solicitors, any witnesses and the police. The court will inform the police or the prosecuting authority by fax within 24 hours of a date being fixed in all cases involving a death or a sexual offence and in cases in which the police have informed the Criminal Appeal Office that the victim or family wishes to be informed of the hearing date.
Dr. Iddon : In three cases of death by dangerous driving that I have dealt with, relatives of the sons or daughters who died found out from the local newspaper that the sentence of the convicted person had been reduced on appeal without their having been able to make representations to the Court of Appeal. Does the Solicitor-General agree that far too many victims or their relatives do not hear that cases are going to the Court of Appeal in London, and that the present linkages are far too complicated and need reviewing?
The Solicitor-General: On the basis of my hon. Friend's comments, I will of course review them. It is unacceptable for somebody who has lost a relative in the course of a criminal offence to discover what happened on appeal in the newspapers. I will look into the matter and raise it with the victims advisory panel, which is chaired by Baroness Scotland, and through which we liaise directly with victims' groups. I would hope that the Court of Appeal would get the information that it requires about the effect on the victim from the victim impact statement, but that does not detract from the fact that the victim's relatives should be present in court to hear about what has affected them so profoundly.
Bob Spink : I thank the right hon. and learned Lady for that answer. I praise the Crown Prosecution Service for its excellent work, which is often misperceived by the public. Nevertheless, public pressure is building as regards antisocial behaviour. In my constituency, there is a serious threat of vigilante action. Does she agree that we need tough, exemplary prosecutions against antisocial behaviour to enable us to take back control of our streets from these thugs?
The Solicitor-General: It is important that people have confidence that the police will act, that prosecutions will go ahead, and that the courts will act in such a way as to deter antisocial behaviour. The active involvement of the criminal justice system in this area is a relatively new development, and we certainly need to make it clearer to people that progress is being made.
Mrs. Anne Campbell (Cambridge) (Lab): Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that recent antisocial behaviour measures such as antisocial behaviour orders and demoted tenancies, which act as a threat to the person who has committed the offences, are far more effective than some of the older legislation whereby prosecutions were necessary before any action could be taken?
The Solicitor-General: The legislation that the House has recently passed, which has been put into effect by the police and the Crown Prosecution Service, is important in warning peoplemostly young peopleand deterring them from some of the activities in which they get involved. However, I am sure that my hon. Friend will agree that we must also focus on the causes of antisocial behaviour, rather than simply seeking to stop it after it has happened. That involves such issues as drunkenness, lack of facilities for young people, street lighting and regenerating estates. I try to avoid sloganising in Solicitor-General's questions, but this issue really is about being tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime.