Prosecution Policy (Hansard, 3 December 1990)
HC Deb 03 December 1990 vol 182 cc13-5
30. Mr. Janner

To ask the Attorney-General when he last met the Director of Public Prosecutions to discuss prosecution policy.

The Attorney-General

I last met the Director on 9 November when we discussed a variety of matters of departmental interest. My right hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General met him for the same purpose on 28 November.

Mr. Janner

Did the Attorney-General and the Director discuss the flood of racist and anti-Semitic material that has been coming through the post, the latest of which is entitled "Another 'Blood Libel' or Ritual Murder"? Why have there been no prosecutions for such matters since 1986? Is it because the law is too weak, in which case it should be changed, or is it because the Attorney-General and the Government do not wish to enforce it? It must be one or the other.

The Attorney-General

It is certainly not the latter, as the hon. and learned Gentleman knows perfectly well. The Law Officers and the Director of Public Prosecutions, for whom they are responsible, take extremely seriously the writing, publication and distribution of such odious material. In the past three years some 20 cases have been referred by the Board of Deputies of British Jews to the prosecuting authorities. In only seven of those cases has it been decided to bring no prosecutions, in each instance because there was insufficient evidence to justify proceedings. In the remaining cases police inquiries are outstanding, or have been unsuccessful, or the police have decided not to refer the case to the Crown prosecution service. There has been a considerable increase in that literature—to dignify it with that word—in the past year, and police inquiries are now outstanding in 16 cases.

Mr. Lawrence

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that while the Government, with the support of the whole House, have put on the statute book legislation that was thought to be adequate for the prosecution of racial offences, it is a matter for the Director of Public Prosecutions, who is not a member of the Government, to decide whether there is sufficient evidence in a particular case to initiate a prosecution?

The Attorney-General

I agree. It would be damaging to bring a prosecution that was outside the criteria that are applied by the DPP to every other case and which failed. As the bona fides of the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Law Officers have been called into question, I am entitled to remind the House of a letter from the acting Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis, Sir John Dellow, in The Times last week. He said: I know that due and proper consideration is given and cases prosecuted where there is a sufficiency of evidence.

Mr. John Morris

Will the Attorney-General discuss with the Director progress on the hearing of the appeal by the Birmingham Six? While the Crown and the defence must have adequate time to prepare their cases—

Mr. Speaker

Order. This would be more appropriate on Question 31, the next question.

Mr. Morris

I am putting a general question about the Director of Public Prosecutions.

Mr. Speaker

The right hon. and learned Member is encroaching on the next question, but go on.

Mr. Morris

Will the Attorney-General convey to the Lord Chancellor the need for an expedited hearing when the cases are ready?

The Attorney-General

I can say that as soon as the grounds of appeal of the six appellants are lodged and the Crown has had an opportunity to consider them, the case can be expected to be listed, but listing is a matter for the court authorities.

Mr. John Marshall

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the inability to prosecute those responsible for some of the offensive literature to which the hon. and learned Member for Leicester, West (Mr. Janner) referred underlines the need for a change in the law?

The Attorney-General

That is arguable, but it would be difficult, as those of us who laboured over what is now the Public Order Act 1986 and previous legislation will remember, to incorporate such provisions in the 1986 Act. It is difficult to put into statutory language the sort of criteria that perhaps my hon. Friend and others wish to see in legislation. The relevant legislation is pretty comprehensive and my hon. Friend will recall its terms. In a substantial proportion of the outstanding cases that have been referred by the Board of Deputies of British Jews, the police have been unable to identify any individual who was responsible for writing the material, distributing it or publishing it.

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