Lucy Frazer debates with Attorney General

There have been 2 exchanges between Lucy Frazer and Attorney General

Wed 22nd May 2019 Information Disclosure: Pre-trial Abuse of Process Hearings (Westminster Hall) 8 interactions (1,596 words)
Wed 15th May 2019 Rape Trials: Treatment of Victims (Westminster Hall) 6 interactions (1,676 words)

Information Disclosure: Pre-trial Abuse of Process Hearings

Lucy Frazer Excerpts
Wednesday 22nd May 2019

(1 year, 4 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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Attorney General
Dame Cheryl Gillan Portrait Dame Cheryl Gillan - Hansard
22 May 2019, 11:11 a.m.

I would like to make progress.

The abiding concern of those complainants, however, is that to their knowledge nothing has been done to prevent the distressing situation in which they found themselves recurring in other cases, concerning other abused children. The men involved feel rightly aggrieved about the wrongfulness of the Law Society and the Bar, and their respective regulators, holding out to the public the existence of certain published professional standards intended for the protection of the public, while at the same time appearing in this case to have had no intention of taking any action at all, even when the published professional standards were found unarguably to have been breached. Throughout this case, those men have felt that they have been stonewalled. They have now lost faith in the so-called professional standards.

Such matters are the responsibility of the Office of the Attorney General. That can be seen clearly in the “Protocol between the Attorney General and the Prosecuting Departments”, at page 7, under the heading “4(d) Superintendence of casework”:

“The Attorney General’s responsibilities for superintendence and accountability to Parliament mean that he or she, acting in the wider public interest, needs occasionally to engage with a Director”—

the Director of Public Prosecutions—

“about a case because it…has implications for prosecution or criminal justice policy or practice; and/or reveals some systemic issues for the framework of the law, or the operation of the criminal justice system.”

In the Minister’s response, I trust that she will provide the reassurance that is sought by my constituent, together with many of his former school colleagues, who were the subject of such appalling abuse at Caldicott School. I trust that she will now agree to include in her review the dual problem: first, non-disclosure of relevant facts and matters by the defence in criminal proceedings in situations in which a duty of disclosure rests on the defendant and his legal team; and, secondly, the apparent impossibility my constituent faced in attempting to procure corrections of the records of the court to solicitors and counsel, and the refusal of the Solicitors Regulation Authority and the Bar Standards Board to assist him in any way.

I look forward to hearing the Minister’s comments on those failures to disclose and on the misleading of the court consequent to the erroneous submissions made to it. The formal confirmation of the Minister is needed to reassure my constituent that solicitors and counsel are professionally obligated to make such corrections as soon as possible, and that in future, where necessary, robust and firm action will be taken by the Solicitors Regulation Authority and the Bar Standards Board in order to prevent the possibility of any court being misled in that way in the future.

I hope that the Minister, in responding, will bear in mind that I have known my constituent, Mr Perry, for 20 years. I have been dealing with his case and other matters pertaining to him for a long time. He is a man of great honour and integrity, and he has come forward to speak out in public about some horrendous abuse he suffered in childhood, thereby hoping to prevent something similar happening to other children in the future. This is just part of that pattern. I hope that the Minister will give a positive response in this debate.

Lucy Frazer Portrait The Solicitor General (Lucy Frazer) - Hansard
22 May 2019, 11:15 a.m.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Robertson.

I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Dame Cheryl Gillan) for raising these important issues. I acknowledge the hurt and anger of her constituent, and how he feels as a result of what happened to him at school many years ago. Sexual abuse of children by those in positions of authority or power who abuse their position of trust is a devastating crime.

I cannot imagine what Mr Perry has been through, but I commend him—as my right hon. Friend has done —for his courage in continuing to speak out about his experiences so as to contribute to the debate on how we improve the criminal justice system for victims. I also understand what she says about her relationship with him, and I am pleased that he has been able to contribute to improvements and to the future of those who have suffered as he has. I am pleased that we have the opportunity today to discuss the concerns expressed by my right hon. Friend about disclosure of information in pre-trial abuse of process hearings.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham spoke about the broader issues in relation to disclosure. Like her, we are concerned about the broad issue. It is imperative that disclosure in a case is made properly. She correctly identified the fact that last year the Attorney General published a review of disclosure, and will be publishing further guidelines in due course.

My right hon. Friend referred in some detail to the case of her constituent, Mr Perry. As she knows, it is not appropriate for me as Solicitor General to comment on decisions made by members of the independent judiciary in the two prosecutions of Peter Wright. I understand, however, that the allegations made about the conduct of those representing Peter Wright during the original criminal proceedings in 2003 have been considered by the police, as she said, the Bar Standards Board and the Solicitors Regulation Authority. Those are the correct bodies to look at allegations of that nature.

Furthermore, in 2012, one of my predecessors as Solicitor General personally considered whether to bring contempt proceedings arising from what the judge was told in 2003, but he concluded that there was insufficient evidence to do so. I understand that the trial judge in the proceedings that led to Peter Wright’s conviction in 2013, as my right hon. Friend said, also considered the arguments that had been employed in the abuse of process application in 2003 but declined to lift the stay on proceedings.

I am not aware of any adverse findings made against any lawyers involved in the criminal proceedings arising out of the abuse at Caldicott School between 1959 and 1970. None of that is in any way designed to diminish the profound effect that those crimes must have had on Mr Perry’s life, or to detract from our commitment as Law Officers superintending the prosecuting departments to promote best practice in the care that victims of sexual abuse receive from the criminal justice system. However, the issues that Mr Perry continues to raise have not been ignored and have received serious consideration in the past.

As Members know, it is open to a defendant to argue that a prosecution is an abuse of process—for example, because of the effect of delay on the fairness of the trial—and that proceedings should therefore be stayed. That arises from the overriding duty on courts to promote justice and to prevent injustice. In these cases, the burden lies on the defendant to prove on the balance of probabilities that there has been an abuse and that a fair trial is no longer possible.

There is clear authority from the Court of Appeal that there is a strong public interest in the prosecution of crime, and that ordering a stay of proceedings is a remedy of last resort, even where there has been significant delay in bringing proceedings. As the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) pointed out, the bar for a stay is very high. Even when a judge imposes a stay of proceedings, the prosecution can apply to lift the stay in future. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham mentioned, such an application was made in Mr Perry’s case in 2012. Although the judge declined the prosecution application to lift the stay on the 2003 proceedings, she allowed the fresh allegations against Peter Wright to be tried by a jury, and also allowed details of the abuse that Mr Perry suffered to be admitted as bad character evidence during the trial. As a result, the jury found Peter Wright guilty of abusing five pupils during the 1960s and he was sentenced to 8 years’ imprisonment.

My right hon. Friend makes some important observations about disclosure in the criminal justice system. Hon. Members will be aware that the Attorney General recently carried out a review of disclosure and made recommendations to improve performance across the criminal justice system. In our criminal justice system there is a statutory duty on prosecutors to disclose to the defence any material or information that may assist the defence or undermine the prosecution case. That duty applies to abuse of process hearings as well as trials. There is also a residual duty on the prosecution at common law to disclose any information that would assist the accused in the preparation of the defence case. That duty applies from the outset in criminal proceedings and requires the disclosure of material that might enable an accused to make an early application to stay the proceedings as an abuse of process.

Alex Chalk Portrait Alex Chalk - Hansard
22 May 2019, 9 a.m.

The Minister is quite properly setting out the duties on the prosecution entirely accurately and fairly. Does she agree that there is a duty, however, on all parties to ensure that what they submit does not in any way mislead the court, and that applies to the defence just as it does to the Crown?

Lucy Frazer Portrait The Solicitor General - Hansard
22 May 2019, 9 a.m.

My hon. Friend makes an important point that I will come on to. It is absolutely right that counsel or solicitor must not mislead the court, as officers of the court with a primary duty to the court and not to their client, but the disclosure of evidence is a different obligation on the defence. There is no corresponding legal duty on the defence to disclose information that is harmful to its case, because that is consistent with the fundamental principle that it is for the prosecution to prove its case and not for a defendant to prove their innocence.

As my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham rightly identified, there is an important duty on counsel and barristers; they have a professional code of conduct that includes the requirement to act ethically and with integrity at all times. That includes a prohibition on knowingly or recklessly misleading anyone, including a court, and a positive duty to behave in a way that maintains public trust and confidence in the proper administration of justice. My right hon. Friend mentioned that her constituent may have details of other cases where a court has been misled; I strongly encourage her to share those details with the CPS and the professional bodies responsible for barristers and solicitors.

Dame Cheryl Gillan Portrait Dame Cheryl Gillan - Hansard
22 May 2019, 9 a.m.

I am grateful to the Minister for the way in which she is responding. She mentioned that it is important to maintain trust in the regulatory bodies. In the light of the circumstances of this case, does she agreed that trust has been shaken? I will provide her with those details once my constituent provides them, so she may pass them on to the relevant authorities or look at them herself, because it is from her office that I believe my constituent wishes to have a response.

Lucy Frazer Portrait The Solicitor General - Hansard
22 May 2019, 9 a.m.

I appreciate that my right hon. Friend’s constituent feels that trust in the criminal justice system has been shaken. That is of concern. I reiterate that as far as I am aware no misconduct has been found by the Bar Standards Board in relation to the case, but I would be very happy—as I am sure it would—to receive any further information that she can provide.

I would like to underline the additional safeguards that exist for defendants and victims when a stay application is brought. There are a number of rules and regulations that ensure that the hearing should be conducted with due notice and in the interests of justice. The Criminal Procedure Rules 2015 set out clearly the timetable that the defence and prosecution should adhere to when preparing for the hearing. For example, the defence application must be in writing and provided to the prosecution and court as soon as practicable after becoming aware of the grounds for applying. The application must include or identify all supporting material, specify all relevant events and identify any witnesses the defendant wishes to call in support of the application. The prosecution must do likewise within 14 days of receiving the application. Both parties must serve skeleton arguments on each other and the court in advance of the actual hearing, so that everyone knows the issues to be determined at the hearing.

Victim care is important in cases of sexual abuse. Mr Perry’s experience demonstrates why it is so important that we continue to make victim care priority in our criminal justice system.

Dame Cheryl Gillan Portrait Dame Cheryl Gillan - Hansard
22 May 2019, 9 a.m.

I agree with the Minister that victims should have priority in our criminal justice system—that is most important. She mentioned at the beginning of her response that she is working on new guidelines that will come out shortly. Could she give us a greater indication of when we can expect those new guidelines? Would there be any possibility of looking at the draft guidelines before they are finalised and published?

Lucy Frazer Portrait The Solicitor General - Hansard
22 May 2019, 11:24 a.m.

A review of disclosure has already taken place. Further guidance will come out in due course. I am happy to update my right hon. Friend on any further details on that and will take on board any points that she might like to make.

We are not just focusing on disclosure, although that is very important. The CPS has almost doubled the number of specialist prosecutors in its dedicated rape and serious sexual offence units, and is working with the Ministry of Justice and the Home Office to revise the victims code, to improve the support and care offered to victims. It is important to remember that these issues do not just affect the Attorney General’s office but are cross-departmental, and we are working together with Departments on those. Debates on this area make an important contribution to the ongoing work to improve the experience of victims in the criminal justice system. I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham and her constituent for raising important issues that affect our criminal justice system.

Question put and agreed to.

Rape Trials: Treatment of Victims

Lucy Frazer Excerpts
Wednesday 15th May 2019

(1 year, 4 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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Attorney General
Robert Halfon Portrait Robert Halfon - Hansard
15 May 2019, 11:03 a.m.

As so often, the hon. Gentleman gets it in one. From what I am about to say, he will see that I agree with him. I am sure the Minister is listening to what he and my hon. Friend the Member for Henley (John Howell) are saying.

First, I want to raise the issues of sentencing for attempted rape and the lack of transparency in published statistics. Secondly, I want to turn to the treatment of victims who report their assault, and call for Government action to make this process easier. We must strive to ensure that justice is served and that there is always compassion and support for the victim.

Section 1(4) of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 sets out that the maximum penalty for rape is life imprisonment. Under the Criminal Attempts Act 1981, a person who attempts to commit the full offence of rape shall also be liable for a maximum sentence of life imprisonment. In the case of my Harlow constituent, her attacker had the intention, or mens rea, to commit the full offence. Had it not been for the fact that she had the sheer physical strength to fight him off until a security guard heard her screaming for help and intervened, his attempt might have been undeterred.

In their legislative form, the offences of attempted rape and rape are considered punishable by equal measure. However, by taking into account the circumstances of the case under the Sentencing Council’s guidelines, the court often imposes a lesser sentence on perpetrators of attempted rape because they have not committed the actus reus of rape. For my Harlow constituent, she feels let down by the justice system—robbed of the possibility of a longer sentence for the perpetrator because she fought so hard to fend him off. Will the Minister clarify the Sentencing Council’s guidelines for attempted rape and the basis on which their effectiveness as a means of securing justice is tested?

Another key problem on the subject of sentencing for sexual offences is the lack of clarity in the statistics. I welcome the Justice Secretary’s response to my letter on sentencing for attempted rape, but I was shocked by his acknowledgement that

“The Ministry of Justice does not disaggregate attempted rape from rape offences by sentence length in published figures.”

Can the Minister tell us whether the Attorney General’s Office and the Ministry of Justice will commit to transparency in sentencing figures for rape and attempted rape, so that we have a much clearer basis on which to assess the suitability of existing law? Will she ensure that this is clearly published, rather than buried in spreadsheets and data tools?

Only 15% of sexual violence cases are reported to the police, and only 7.5% of rape charges result in conviction. These statistics are devastating and demand urgent Government attention. A whole host of factors might well be to blame for these figures: a high threshold for sufficient evidence; the CPS’s continuous demand for more intrusive personal data, including from mobile phones; and the myths surrounding what constitutes rape, to name but a few. However, some responsibility must be borne by the treatment of victims before, during and after trial. We are discouraging people from reporting their assault or forcing them to drop charges, because they cannot bear to continue.

After making the courageous decision to give her statement to the police, the process of my Harlow constituent’s fight for justice has been arduous and often extremely uncomfortable. It is important that I go through some of her experiences in detail—sadly, my constituent’s account is not unique. In the immediate aftermath of the incident, she waited eight hours in discomfort, exhaustion and emotional trauma to have forensic evidence collected at the sexual assault referral centre, or SARC. She was not permitted to wash and was asked to strip down before being swabbed from head to toe and photographed. She was then interviewed and asked intrusive personal questions. At the time, she was constantly waiting for nurses, police and support staff to attend to her.

As they are often the first port of call after an assault, SARCs play a crucial role in the victim’s ability to secure justice. It is possibly the most critical part of the process in obtaining forensic evidence that can be used by the prosecution at trial. However, we make victims wait in distress and discomfort, because otherwise they risk evidence being lost due to a lack of qualified staff. The rape support fund has been a cornerstone for support services, and I wholeheartedly welcome the Government’s commitment under the victims strategy to increase spending from £31 million in 2016-17 to £39 million in 2020-21. The solution is not necessarily throwing more money at the problem, although more money will always be welcome; it is essential that money is being used wisely and efficiently to maximise reach.

NHS England says that SARCs delivered services to 20,000 people in 2017-18. In the same year, Rape Crisis supported 78,000 individuals on £10 million less funding. What measure will the Minister take to ensure that the £39 million is used to staff SARCs properly? While they are not staffed properly, we are not only adding to the distress and anguish of victims, but potentially risking the successful prosecution of people who commit such horrific acts. Additionally, the all-party parliamentary group on sexual violence, together with Rape Crisis, has identified concerns about increased competition for this extra money and whether there will be any significant changes to individual sentences.

The consequences, of course, are felt by the end user—the victim. As my constituent’s experience shows, the Government’s commitment to strengthen victim support, although wholly admirable, does not always trickle down to the people using the services. For example, sexual assault victims do not get the psychological support that they need. Waiting times for counselling are as long as one year, and the counselling sessions that individuals are offered may be just for a few weeks.

My constituent realised that she needed much more counselling. She actively pressed for more, and was given it. On top of her emotional trauma, she felt guilty that she may have been depriving someone else of vital support. People who have already been through an emotional and horrific ordeal should not be concerned about that. Will the Minister ensure that the additional funding outlined in the Government’s victims strategy will be channelled to staff support services properly, minimise waiting times and allow survivors to start getting on with their lives?

In the months leading up to the trial, my constituent was contacted regularly by the police, who asked more questions and wanted more statements, interviews and photographs of the bruising. The trial took more than a week and a half. She had to express her discomfort at the idea that her attacker would be in the same room as her before a screen was put up. She described the trial and cross-examination as:

“A torturous experience of being asked the most vulgar questions...based on the attacker’s recall of the event, which made me feel so uncomfortable and emotional, whilst being forced under pressure by the lawyer”.

Even after a guilty verdict has been reached, victims are still not free to get on with their lives. My constituent had to wait months before her attacker was sentenced to six years.

Survivors of assault put themselves through that not because they want to, but because it is their only hope of building a case, and yet we jeopardise it by making the process so difficult. Minister, what can be done to speed up the process from reporting to the police to sentencing, so we do not prolong the suffering for longer than is wholly necessary?

Since the perpetrator’s imprisonment, my constituent has been asked by her attacker’s parole board to fill in reams of paperwork to put in place measures not only for her, but for him. Although he got six years—now reduced to just three—my constituent feels like she has been served with a life sentence. She is reeling from the anguish and suffering she experienced. Why on earth should she—the innocent party and victim—face a never ending struggle to keep the perpetrator in prison and feel some sense of safety?

I recognise that resources are limited, and that this is a particularly sensitive area of the law, but we cannot sit by and ignore the problems. The statistics relating to this area of justice are dire, as has been highlighted, and they are not getting any better. In 2017-18, the number of rape referrals from the police to the CPS fell by 9%, the number of suspects charged for rape fell by 8% and the number of rape prosecutions fell by 13%. The volume of sexual offence prosecutions excluding rape also fell by 11%.

My constituent suffered because of the lenient justice system. She suffered in the reporting of the attempted rape and suffered again in the aftermath. That is just wrong. She, like every rape and sexual assault survivor, has suffered enough. The Government must review all these areas and ensure that no one feels let down by the justice system again.

Lucy Frazer Portrait The Solicitor General (Lucy Frazer) - Hansard
15 May 2019, 11:14 a.m.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Bailey. I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon) for raising this very important issue. I acknowledge his constituent’s terrible ordeal, and I am truly sorry that she feels let down by our justice system. Rape, attempted rape and other serious sexual offences are devastating crimes. I cannot begin to imagine what his constituent has been through. I commend her for her courage in speaking out, reporting the crime, raising her experience with her MP, and continuing to draw attention to the ways in which we can improve the system. I commend her for that, because it is only through reporting crimes that people are brought to justice, and other women who could be victims are saved a terrible ordeal. I thank her for going through the process, which I understand has been extremely difficult.

John Howell Portrait John Howell - Hansard
15 May 2019, 11:15 a.m.

Does the Minister think there is an opportunity to refer this matter to the Victims’ Commissioner? We have just appointed a new Victims’ Commissioner, Vera Baird, and I wonder whether it would be useful to report this. She is responsible for ensuring equal performance across the whole gamut of the justice system.

Lucy Frazer Portrait The Solicitor General - Hansard
15 May 2019, 11:16 a.m.

I have already had the honour of liaising with Vera Baird, and I very much look forward to discussing this issue with her. The issue of consistency across police forces and the CPS, and within local authorities that deal with rape victims, is very important. We will be discussing these issues, and I am sure she will have considerable insight into them.

I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Harlow for raising this issue. I am very pleased to see the right hon. and learned Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman) in the Chamber. I look forward to hearing about her expertise in this very important area.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Harlow said that it is important that we treat victims sensitively and with respect. I agree. I am pleased to have the opportunity today, in my first debate in my new role, to discuss how we can improve the system and what we are already doing. My right hon. Friend mentioned many issues thoroughly, and I want to respond to them. He said that the sentences for rape and attempted rape start similarly. Rape carries a maximum penalty of life imprisonment, and he is right that attempted rape has the same maximum penalty. A judge will have regard to the sentencing guidelines for the substantive offence, but he then selects a starting point based on harm and culpability as if he were sentencing for the full offence. He will then reduce the starting point at the lower end of the category range to reflect the fact that it was an attempted rape, not a rape. The amount of the reduction will depend on how close the offence was to being completed, and a judgment will be made on a case-by-case basis.

I realise that victims of rape and attempted rape will be extremely traumatised, but they should know that, regardless of the sentence imposed by the court, anyone convicted or cautioned for a relevant sexual offence is automatically made subject to notification requirements—in other words, they are placed on the sexual offenders register. The court can also make a sexual harm prevention order on anyone convicted or cautioned for a relevant sexual offence, which can prohibit the individual from doing anything described within it, as long as the court has determined it to be proportionate and necessary.

My right hon. Friend also mentioned the lack of clarity in the statistics. He is absolutely right to highlight the importance of data. I assure him that the Ministry of Justice is conscious of the importance of data and transparency. During my time there, we worked with the media to improve public transparency. When we build a common platform for taking cases in the criminal justice process through a digital system, we will use it to improve the collection of data, which can then be shared. My right hon. Friend makes an important point about the distinction between the statistics collected on rape and attempted rape. I will pass that on to the Ministry of Justice so it can address the collection of its data as the common platform develops. With better data, we can have better scrutiny.

My right hon. Friend mentioned the treatment of victims and how they feel treated. He is right to say that the figures for reporting and for convictions could be better. That is not a new issue, as my hon. Friend the Member for Henley rightly pointed out, but we have some positive news. According to the most recent figures in the year ending June 2018, there was an 18% increase in reporting of sexual offences. The CPS has also doubled the number of specialist prosecutors in its dedicated rape and serious sexual offences units.

We need to improve the care of those brave enough to come forward. The CPS is working with the Ministry of Justice and the Home Office to revise the victims’ code, to improve the support and care offered to victims. As the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) mentioned, cross-Department and cross-agency work is important. The CPS is also working with the police to ensure that we improve the process of the criminal justice system.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Harlow mentioned mental health, which is very important. I cannot begin to imagine the consequences of such an ordeal for someone’s mental health. We are launching a new toolkit for therapists and prosecutors on the support that an individual who suffers from a mental health condition will require.

My right hon. Friend mentioned his constituents’ use of a screen, which is an important part of the special provisions in court. We are trying to improve access to special measures, and the Ministry of Justice has committed to recording and monitoring applications for special measures, to ensure that everyone who is entitled to them can access them.

My right hon. Friend mentioned the role of sexual assault referral centres, or SARCS, and the significant funds invested in them. NHS England investment in SARC services increased from £8 million in 2013 to £31 million in 2018-19. As he mentioned, that funding has risen this year and will rise further next year. He is right, however, to say that, as with all public services, funding alone is not sufficient; it needs to be well spent. I say to him that, locally, police and NHS England commissioners have meetings with providers to review their performance. Nationally, NHS England undertakes internal assurance to look at cost, performance and quality, as well as areas of emergent risk.

I am deeply sorry that my right hon. Friend’s constituent had to wait a long time in a SARC. I understand that long waits in SARCs are unusual, as a referral is usually immediate for adults, and an out-of-hours policy states that a SARC can be opened for a referral, which can take up to two hours. I am sorry about her experience. The police, police and crime commissioners and the NHS should all hold SARCs to account. The Care Quality Commission has also started to inspect SARCs and publish the findings on its website. It is extremely important that we ensure that SARCs, which receive public funding, work well.

My right hon. Friend mentioned delays and the time that it takes not only for a case to come to court, but to go through court. It is true that sexual offence cases take longer to go through the criminal justice system than other cases. That is because sexual offences, especially rape, are some of the most challenging and complex cases with which the CPS deals. Yesterday, I met the Director of Public Prosecutions and I raised the issue of delays when such cases go through the system. He made the same point that I have about the difficulty in evidencing those types of cases. He stressed the importance of ensuring that when such traumatic cases are reported, sufficient work is done to ensure a fair trial and that, at the end of the day, if the perpetrator is guilty, he or she is brought to justice.

Unfortunately, successful prosecutions take time. We want to speed up the court process and ensure that cases are heard effectively. I know, through my time at the MOJ, that in both Crown court and magistrates court we are trying to reform the process to ensure that cases are heard more efficiently, through transforming summary justice and better case management systems in both jurisdictions.

This is a terribly important area because people who suffer from serious violent sexual offences—or attempted serious violent sexual offences—may deal with the consequences for life, as we heard from my right hon. Friend. It is therefore important that, as a Government, we continue to look at how we can improve the criminal justice system when dealing with such offences.

Ms Harriet Harman Portrait Ms Harriet Harman (Camberwell and Peckham) (Lab) - Hansard
15 May 2019, 11:25 a.m.

I join the Minister in thanking the right hon. Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon) for bringing this case forward. I am sure that he will have given his constituent enormous moral support and made her feel that, after a traumatic offence has been committed against her and she feels that the criminal justice system has failed her, she has at least had his full support as he has brought her case to the House. The points arising from her case are so important.

I warmly congratulate the Minister, who I am delighted to see in her new post as Solicitor General. She will take all of these issues forward. I know that her appointment, as well as her support for those in the criminal justice system who want and strive to improve it—particularly in the Crown Prosecution Service—will be welcomed. For my part, I will certainly do everything that I can to help her work.

Lucy Frazer Portrait The Solicitor General - Hansard

I thank the right hon. and learned Lady for her comments. It is an honour to follow her in this role, albeit not immediately. She has done a significant amount of work on this matter and continues to do so. I very much look forward to working with her on this important area, which we as a Government want to improve.

It is important to understand the personal experiences of those who have gone through the process so that we can better make change. Although I hope that the constituent of my right hon. Friend the Member for Harlow will feel that she has some level of personal support, I reiterate that, by coming forward and raising the issue, she has helped to improve the justice system more broadly.

We in Government take such issues extremely seriously. We have already committed to a number of measures, some of which I have had time to mention, some of which I have not. In March, as part of the violence against women and girls refresh, we started an end-to-end review of the criminal justice system response to rape and sexual offences cases, which is ongoing. Debates such as this and hearing personal experiences are so important because they feed into that process. I thank my right hon. Friend and his constituent for a further opportunity to debate this very important matter.

Question put and agreed to.