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Crown Prosecution Service: Deaths in Custody

Lord Fyfe of Fairfield asked Her Majesty's Government:

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The Attorney-General (Lord Goldsmith): The report of my review has been published today. Copies have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses and sent to those who contributed their views to the review or who were invited to do so. A copy has also been placed on the website of the Legal Secretariat to the Law Officers, which can be found at www.lslo.gov.uk.

The fundamental objective of my review has been to improve public confidence in the decisions of the CPS and the way the Crown Prosecution Service takes decisions and carries out its statutory role in cases arising from a death in custody. Some important themes have emerged from this review, and the Director of Public Prosecutions and I have agreed that changes to CPS practice are needed in a number of respects.

The core themes that emerged from the review and in relation to which changes are being implemented clustered around the following: the role of the CPS during the criminal investigation; how the Crown Prosecution Service can best deliver high-quality, efficient decision-making that commands public confidence; and how the CPS can communicate more effectively with the families of people who die in custody where there is a criminal investigation into the circumstances in which that person died.

The review sets out a package of measures to improve the practice of the Crown Prosecution Service in its handling of deaths in custody. The following measures are being or have been implemented:


    1. The CPS definition of deaths in custody, which will identifiy those cases that will be subject to the special internal procedures set out in this report, will be brought into line with that of the Home Office where police-related deaths are concerned. The definition so far as it relates to deaths in prison custody will remain the same.


    2. While any deaths in custody that are referred to the CPS for advice or prosecution will continue to be dealt with by the casework directorate (as recommended in the Butler review), the pool of Crown Prosecution Service lawyers taking decisions in death in custody cases will be widened to speed up the decision-making process and to enable the most senior lawyers in the service, including the Director personally, to advise on and to take decisions in individual cases. In order to increase the available lawyers involved, steps are or will be taken to enable suitably qualified lawyers below senior civil servant level in the casework directorate to take decisions; and to alter the current arrangements for decision-making to allow greater input by senior lawyers into the most critical casework decisions that the service faces. I announced this change in the House of Lords on 27 February 2003 at col. WA 47.


    3. The pool of counsel instructed to advise will be widened.

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    4. The independent police complaints commission will become fully operational in 2004. As it will have the role and capacity to undertake some investigations in-house, including death in custody cases, the Crown Prosecution Service is discussing with the IPCC how it proposes to carry out its functions in these cases and how the relationship with the Crown Prosecution Service will operate, particularly in relation to early advice.


    5. A wide-ranging training programme for all those who take decisions in death in custody cases has been commenced.


    6. A new package of measures to increase the transparency of the decision-making process and to involve families more will be implemented. This will mean earlier meetings between the case lawyer and the family and better arrangements for keeping the family informed of progress and increasing their opportunity to have input during the decision making process.


    7. More proactive case management systems: there is already a scheme to facilitate proactive case tracking and management to case plans agreed at the outset.


    8. The Director of Public Prosecutions is taking a new enhanced role in overseeing all cases arising from a death in custody.


    9. The casework directorate, supported by the equality and diversity unit of the CPS, will take steps to engage with different communities, not only through special interest and campaign groups, but through the legal community, the media and members of the public more widely.


    10. Statistical information will be compiled that will enable the CPS to demonstrate its performance, identify any patterns and identify any scope for improvement.


    11. As best practice, reviewing lawyers in death in custody cases will continue to attend relevant parts of any inquest in the case to view crucial evidence being given.


    12. The CPS will publish a booklet to explain to families where the Crown Prosecution Service fits into the process and what they can expect from the CPS.

The overall objective of all the reforms is to put in place changes that will contribute to and support high-quality and fair decision-making, efficient decision-making and arrangements for communicating with families that will tend to promote confidence in the decisions taken and in the process itself.

I am grateful to all those who contributed their time and expertise by responding to the consultation paper I issued last year, or attending the public seminar or by letting me know their views in other ways.

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Serious Fraud Office: Annual Report

Lord Hogg of Cumbernauld asked Her Majesty's Government:

    When the director of the Serious Fraud Office will publish his annual report.[HL4074]

Lord Goldsmith: The Serious Fraud Office annual report 2002–03 has today been published and laid before Parliament. Copies have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses.

National Asylum Support Service

Lord Barnett asked Her Majesty's Government:

    When they plan to publish the independent review of the National Asylum Support Service (NASS).[HL4028]

The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Scotland of Asthal): We are pleased to inform the House that we have today published the key findings from the report of the independent review of the operation of the National Asylum Support Service (NASS). The review was established in March this year to consider the ways in which NASS operates and provide me with recommendations to improve its performance. We are grateful to the review team for the work they have undertaken.

The review team found that NASS was established to undertake a much simpler role than the complex one which they now perform. That role is made even more complicated by being a very visible part of the asylum system. Despite that, the review team found that NASS was showing signs of improvement in its operational performance, strategic planning and relationships with partner organisations.

However, they also found that some key issues still need to be addressed. They found that NASS had faced real difficulties in getting on top of its job. External pressures such as Sangatte, an upsurge in asylum applications in 2001 and significant ongoing recruitment and training gaps contributed significantly to NASS's current problems and it had failed to establish a clear strategy to provide purpose, direction and governance of its activities. It had been established as a distinct part of the Immigration and Nationality Directorate, (IND) something which had contributed to a lack of proper integration with other parts of the asylum process and unrealistic expectations surrounding issues such as social integration.

The review team found that there were still considerable gaps in NASS's ability to deal effectively with its external partners such as local authorities or the voluntary sector. Partly, this was a lack of understanding of the roles of these other organisations, but also a simple lack of effective and agreed processes to ensure that issues ran smoothly. The review team also found weaknesses within some of NASS's core operations. IT was critical to the business but was neither fully exploited, nor properly integrated

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with the IT used elsewhere in IND. The review team said that specific improvements to processes or resolution of long-standing policy impasses were possible which would provide much-needed service improvements. The basic customer service provided to NASS's wide range of stakeholders needed to improve. Within this were concerns such as the difficulties with telephone contact with NASS. The review team supported NASS's regionalisation project and pointed to a need for many more aspects of NASS's business to be handled at a local level.

Looking across the range of issues covered, the review team said that for NASS to perform at its best it needs to:


    be clear what is expected of it and how its success will be judged;


    have the financial and managerial resources to do the job;


    have a thorough understanding of its own strengths and weaknesses;


    have a clear view of what it needs to do to improve its performance;


    understand its impact on the whole end-to-end asylum process;


    sort out some of its key business processes and procedures; and


    get better at working with the rest of IND in a fully joined-up operation.

Since completion of the review, NASS's senior management team has been strengthened, as has the Immigration and Nationality Directorate's ability to deal more effectively with social integration issues. More widely, NASS and other IND staff are currently analysing the proposals contained in the report and will submit an action plan to us shortly. This action plan will form the basis of a major programme of work designed to improve NASS's performance. We shall make a further statement about the action taken in the light of the review in due course.


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