Examination of Witnesses (Questions 100-106)|
QC, MR RICHARD
TUESDAY 26 FEBRUARY 2002
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
(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
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 eliminatingand I have said it several
timesunnecessary 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
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
(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
104. You can always send us a letter on this.
(Mr Calvert-Smith) I think probably that is what I
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