Dr Julian Lewis: If he [the Solicitor-General] will make a statement on the role of police officers in dealing with victims of crime exclusively on behalf of the Crown Prosecution Service?
The Solicitor-General [Ross Cranston]: Under the citizens charter, the police are responsible for keeping the victim informed of developments in the case. The Government have accepted the Glidewell and Macpherson recommendations in relation to the CPS assuming a greater responsibility for direct communication with victims. Six pilot studies to assess the operational impact of such communication are now under way. Information from those pilot studies will help the planning of a wider options study, due to begin in April 2000.
[SUPPLEMENTARY:] I am grateful for that constructive reply, but I urge the Solicitor-General to press on. Does he not agree that the system is skewed too much in favour of the defendant and against the victim, especially in complicated technical cases in which the defendant can directly consult the lawyers representing him, but the victim can only communicate what are sometimes precise, detailed, technical points to the Crown prosecution lawyers via the medium of a policeman who, with the best will in the world, will be untrained in detailed legal matters? I urge the Solicitor-General to act on the results of his pilot schemes with the utmost speed.
The Solicitor-General: I know that the hon. Gentleman has long been interested in this, and he is right to suggest that the approach of the police is sometimes not the right approach, in that they can get the message garbled. It is better for the prosecutors to be able to communicate directly with victims, but this will be a long process. The practice already exists in relation to homicide, but the aim of the pilot projects is to ensure that it can apply to offences more generally. I accept what the hon. Gentleman said about victims' access to prosecutors, but by the same token, it is important for prosecutors to continue to act in the public interest, and in some cases that is not on all fours with the arrangements applying to defendants and their counsel.