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The Minister of State, Home Office (Lord Falconer of Thoroton): The Home Secretary's powers to investigate and refer alleged miscarriages of justice to the Court of Appeal came to an end on 31 March 1997 and were replaced by new powers vested in the Criminal Cases Review Commission, which is an independent body. It is now responsible for the investigation and consideration of cases of alleged wrongful conviction or sentence and, if it decides certain criteria are met, will refer a case to the appropriate appellate court, which has to treat the referral as a fresh appeal. The Criminal Appeal Act 1995 gives the commission full powers to direct and supervise investigations, approve the appointment of officers to carry out investigations on its behalf and to gain access to documents and other relevant materials.
It is open to those who were convicted of offences arising out of the bombing of the Israeli Embassy in London in 1994, or anyone acting on their behalf, if they are of the opinion that the judgment in the Argentine court provides fresh evidence that might affect the safety of their convictions or reflects in any way on their cases, to make an application to the commission.
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: The Crime and Disorder Act 1998 introduced statutory time limits under which cases must be brought to court and dealt with within certain prescribed time limits. These have been piloted in youth courts in six areas in England and Wales and evaluated by independent researchers.
Sections 4345 of the 1998 Act amended Section 22 of the Prosecution of Offences Act 1985 to provide for the introduction of three sorts of statutory time limit (in addition to the statutory custody time limits which are already in force). The limits are an initial time limit of 36 days from arrest to first listing; an overall time limit of 99 days from first listing to start of trial; and a sentencing time limit of 29 days from conviction to sentence.
The limits apply to all offences and start at the point of arrest. Whether the decision in a youth case is to reprimand, finally warn or charge, this has to be achieved within the 36-day period; after that time, the case cannot be prosecuted without an extension from the court. Once in court, the case must reach the point of trial within 99 days.
The police or the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) can seek extensions of the initial or overall time limit but must satisfy the court that they have good and sufficient cause and that they have acted with due diligence. If these time limits are exceeded without an extension being granted, then the case must be discontinued and cannot be reinstituted unless fresh evidence comes to light. There is an appeal mechanism in relation to refusals of applications for the overall time limit but not the initial time limit.
The evaluators recommended that statutory time limits should be implemented from a human rights perspective. They argued that delays in the youth court need to be curbed in terms of time limits rather than time targets because limits apply to each individual case rather than an average.
We have also given careful consideration to the priorities for the criminal justice system (CJS) following the spending review and the new national targets for the CJS. We have reviewed measures and targets which impact on performance across the board to ensure a cohesive approach.
The Association of Chief Police Officers and the Crown Prosecution Service consider that the limits have increased the administrative burden for the police and CPS in dealing with youth cases. They are also concerned that the limits might conflict with the priority being given to improving the quality and effectiveness of case preparation to reduce the number of ineffective trials.
The overall view is that the process adds to bureaucracyif extensions are needed, applications have to be made to the court and notice served on the defence; and the time limit has to be recalculated for periods unlawfully at large. While only a few cases were lost because extensions were not applied for or were refused, this would be much more of a problem nationally and the potential for loss of public confidence in the system would be that much greater. The impact on victims is of particular concern, especially if the case was perceived as being dropped because of a procedural technicality.
We also consider that it is not necessary to have rigid statutory time limits in each and every case in order to deliver our aim of speedy and efficient preparation for trials or sentencing. In our view, custody time limits and the power of the courts to stay cases where delay amounts to an abuse of process are adequate legal safeguards against undue delay in bringing cases to trial.
Taken together with the many other measures that are being taken to improve case management in the criminal justice system, we have decided not to extend statutory time limits across England and Wales.
The focus on timeliness will continue. All CJS areas will be expected to work towards meeting and maintaining the Government's objective to halve the average time from arrest to sentence for persistent young offendersa target which has been achieved nationally for 15 consecutive months. And timeliness targets have been extended to encompass all youth court cases and other cases in the adult magistrates' courts and Crown Courts.
The key to successful case management is inter-agency co-operation, with the police, prosecution and courts all playing their part as cases move through the system. We have given the youth courts the tools to monitor live cases and have provided funding for case progression officers. The local criminal justice board will monitor performance on timeliness and will report to the national board.
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: The Home Secretary is today, together with US Attorney General, John Ashcroft, signing a new bilaterial extradition treaty between the United Kingdom and the United States of America.
The new treaty reflects best modern practice in extradition. In particular, it provides that any crime attracting a maximum sentence of 12 months' imprisonment or more in both the requesting and the requested state is extraditable rather than containing a list of offences which are extraditable, as the present treaty does. The advantage of that is that it encompasses offences such as computer related crime which did not exist when the 1972 treaty was drawn up.
The treaty stipulates that neither nationality nor statutes of limitations will be a bar to extradition. The treaty also provides the standard speciality protection against onward extradition or surrender, and we have confirmed our understanding that this covers surrender to the International Criminal Court.
Before the treaty can come into force it needs to be ratified by the United States Senate. It will be brought into force in the United Kingdom by Order in Council. Such an order will be made under the existing Extradition Act 1989 and will carry over when the Extradition Bill, which is curently before Parliament, comes into force. At that point the United States, like all of our extradition partners, will benefit from the new streamlined extradition procedures which the Bill seeks to put in place.
The United States is one of our key extradition partners and there is a significant volume of extradition business between the two countries. It is therefore important that our bilaterial extradition treaty should be as effective as possible. I am pleased that it has been possible to reach agreement on the new treaty and that the Government have the opportunity to affirm their commitment to the closest possible co-operation in the fight against terrorism and other serious crime.
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