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25 Jun 2003 : Column WA19

Written Answers

Wednesday, 25th June 2003.

Magistrates' Courts: Enforcement of Fines

Lord Clarke of Hampstead asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What plans they have with regard to the enforcement of fines imposed by the magistrates' courts.[HL3617]

The Lord Chancellor (Lord Falconer of Thoroton): Too many fines are not paid. In the year 2002–03, an unacceptable 45 per cent of fines were not paid. In some areas the level of default was as high as 60 per cent. The authority of the courts must be enforced. We are announcing today a new approach to the collection of fines.

First, fines will no longer be written off. They will be chased until they are paid, no longer being written off, as they often are, after twelve months.

Secondly, we will make it easier to deduct the fine directly from the offender's pay or benefits.

Thirdly, if the offender really cannot pay, we will allow the fine to be paid off by unpaid work in the community.

Fourthly, where courts have been ineffective in the collection of fines we will allow the private sector to be brought into the collection of fines.

Fifthly, we will introduce a new offence of failing to provide details of income and expenditure to allow deduction orders to be made.

Sixthly, we will consider allowing deductions for earlier payment, but we will increase the fines for late payment.

Seventhly, we will work with the courts to ensure that there are incentives for those individual fine officers who collect fines effectively.

This seven-point plan will be driven personally by the ministers in DCA. They will intervene personally with any magistrates' courts committees that continue to perform badly.

Fine enforcement is a priority. The DCA's job is now actively to ensure the courts are effective in fighting crime.

A report on the annual performance data was placed in the Libraries of both Houses today entitled Fine Enforcement Performance in 2002–03. The report shows that performance overall was poor, with the 42 independent magistrates' courts committees (MCCs) failing to deliver the overall national target of a payment rate of 68 per cent.

The Government commissioned an independent review, A Review of Magistrates' Courts Enforcement Strategies, which we are also placing in the Libraries of both Houses today.

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North/South Ministerial Council: Interim Procedures

Lord Laird asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether the decision of 19 May of the North/South Ministerial Council concerning the future general round pay increases for all staff employed by the Language Implementation Body was taken in line with procedures issued on 5 December 2002 entitled Ministerial Decision Making Interim Procedures.[HL3135]

The Lord President of the Council (Lord Williams of Mostyn): As the noble Lord is now aware, the paper was intended to apply only to the Irish Language Agency of the North/South Language Body and action to rectify this will now be taken in accordance with the interim procedures.

Lord Laird asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Who is responsible for ensuring that the interim procedures for the North/South Ministerial Council entitled Ministerial Decision Making Interim Procedures dated 5 December 2002 are correctly implemented.[HL3137]

Lord Williams of Mostyn: The interim procedures were drawn up by officials to facilitate decision-making by Ministers under the agreement made between the British and Irish Governments of 19 November 2002. Implementation of the procedures is an administrative matter for officials in the relevant departments.


Lord Kilclooney asked Her Majesty's Government:

    In which nations from which there will be athletes for the Special Olympics based in Northern Ireland, there have been cases of severe acute respiratory syndrome; and what precautions are being taken to stop an outbreak of SARS in Northern Ireland.[HL3171]

Lord Williams of Mostyn: Cases of SARS have been reported in four of the countries from which there will be athletes for the Special Olympics based in Northern Ireland, viz the United States, Sweden, Spain and Australia. None of these countries is listed by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as a SARS-affected country requiring restrictions on international travel.

SARS is a serious public health issue and the approach of the Department of Health Social Services and Public Safety (DHSSPS) Northern Ireland has been to act quickly to strengthen its public health surveillance systems and make sure that the health service is prepared should a case occur in Northern Ireland. The department is represented on the national SARS taskforce, which itself works closely with the WHO. The taskforce agrees all relevant control measures and these are then implemented locally. As

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early as 14 March the Chief Medical Officer, Dr Henrietta Campbell, contacted all relevant healthcare professionals with detailed information on the symptoms of SARS, and what to do if they encountered a case. Updated guidance based on advice from WHO has been issued at regular intervals since, both to professionals and to people travelling abroad. The department has established a SARS section on its website which is regularly updated. It has also provided and made arrangements for posters to be displayed at appropriate points in airports and seaports. There have been no SARS cases so far in Northern Ireland.

In conjunction with the Centre for Communicable Disease Control (CDSC) (NI), the department is urgently developing a contingency plan for SARS or other emerging infection. A Northern Ireland taskforce is being established to monitor the situation and to implement the contingency plan.

Teacher Training Qualifications

Lord Laird asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Further to the Written Answer by the Lord Privy Seal on 15 January (WA 47–48) concerning teacher training qualifications, what progress has been made by the authorities in the Republic of Ireland towards recognising all teacher qualifications from the United Kingdom.[HL3182]

Lord Williams of Mostyn: A further meeting of the joint working group was held on 20 March 2003 and work on a range of issues is still ongoing. The next meeting of the working group is scheduled for September 2003.

Woodwork Classes

Lord Kilclooney asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What has been the capital investment for the provision of woodwork classes in each of the past 10 years at (a) Ballynahinch and (b) Kircubbin.[HL3172]

Lord Williams of Mostyn: The department does not hold records relating to the period before colleges were incorporated in 1998. Since then £80,000, in 2001–02, has been invested in woodwork at Ballynahinch, for the purchase of a new machine. There has been no such investment at Kircubbin.

Renal Isotope Scanning Facilities

Lord Laird asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What steps they have taken in the past 12 months to reduce the waiting list for paediatric renal isotope scans in Northern Ireland; whether all possible facilities are currently in use; and, if not, why.[HL3183]

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Lord Williams of Mostyn: Extra funding has recently been made available to provide for the operation of all renal isotope scanning facilities in Northern Ireland. This will improve waiting times for children who require this important service.

Crown Prosecution Service: Cases of Sally Clark and Trupti Patel

Baroness Gould of Potternewton asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What steps are being taken by the Crown Prosecution Service to address issues raised in the judgment of the Court of Appeal in the case of Sally Clark and the acquittal of Trupti Patel.[HL3620]

The Attorney-General (Lord Goldsmith): The Crown Prosecution Service will only bring a prosecution if there is sufficient admissible evidence to provide a realistic prospect of obtaining a conviction and a prosecution is in the public interest. It will continually review cases to ensure that such tests are met. In the appeal of Sally Clark the Court of Appeal focussed on the non-disclosure of potentially significant evidence by Dr Williams and the use and presentation of statistical data by Professor Meadow.

The Solicitor-General and I have met the DPP to discuss the implications of the appeal. Since the written reasons of the Court of Appeal were made available in the case of Sally Clark, and following the acquittal of Trupti Patel, the Crown Prosecution Service has undertaken a number of measures. First, interim guidance has been sent to all chief crown prosecutors requesting that all cases be identified in which either Dr Williams or Professor Meadow are witnesses. The defence is then to be served with a copy of the judgment in the Sally Clark case and its attention is drawn to sections of the judgment touching on his evidence. Further and fuller guidance will be provided to prosecutors as soon as possible. This will apply to both present and future cases.

With respect to previous cases in which Dr Williams has given material evidence, the Crown Prosecution Service is presently considering the implications of the Sally Clark judgment and is in discussion with other relevant agencies, including the police and Home Office. I intend to establish a group comprising these agencies to consider whether any cases resulting in a conviction in which Dr Williams has given important evidence require a more in-depth review.

The Home Office Pathology Advisory Board will I understand publish new codes of practice and procedure for pathologists, which will take account of the judicial comments on the methodology employed by Dr Williams in the Sally Clark case. Once published, the codes will be distributed to pathologists.

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In its published judgment, the Court of Appeal raised no criticism of the Crown Prosecution Service for its handling of the prosecution of Sally Clark, neither did the judge criticise the CPS for bringing the prosecution in respect of Trupti Patel.

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