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25 Jun 1999 : Column WA111

Written Answers

Friday, 25th June 1999.

General Pinochet: Leak Inquiry

Lord Lamont of Lerwick asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will arrange for the publication in total of the contents and findings of the leak inquiry into the Law Lords hearing about General Pinochet; and whether they will ensure that if any judges are criticised they are also named.[HL2498]

The Lord Chancellor (Lord Irvine of Lairg): No. Leak inquiries can only be conducted effectively on a confidential basis.

Sevso Case: Decision not to Prosecute

Lord Renfrew of Kaimsthorn asked Her Majesty's Government:

    In the light of the scale of the settlement in the Sevso case (Marquess of Northampton v Allen and Overy and Peter Mimpriss), reportedly in excess of £15 million (The Times, 8 May), whether they will reconsider the decision not to prosecute in respect of matters alleged in those proceedings, including fraud and fraudulent misrepresentations.[HL2676]

The Lord Chancellor: The decision by the Crown Prosecution Service not to prosecute in respect of these matters was taken in accordance with the Code for Crown Prosecutors after careful consideration of the available evidence. The basis of that decision was that there was insufficient evidence to provide a realistic prospect of conviction.

Since that decision was made no further significant and admissible evidence has been submitted which would cause the Crown Prosecution Service to reconsider the decision.

Lord Renfrew of Kaimsthorn asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they are concerned that criminal conduct may have been involved in the Sevso case (Marquess of Northampton v. Allen & Overy and Peter Mimpriss), given the reported scale of the settlement.[HL2677]

Lord Williams of Mostyn: Further to my Answer of 8 June 1999, Official Report, col. WA 147, following discussions between the Metropolitan Police and the Crown Prosecution Service, I now understand that the reasons the Crown Prosecution Service decided not to prosecute any individual concerned in the purchase of the Sevso silver was due to the insufficiency of evidence and not, as stated in my earlier reply, because it was not in the public interest.

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Action against the Bank of England: Lord Spens

Lord Williams of Elvel asked Her Majesty's Government:

    On what grounds the Legal Aid Board's decision to grant legal aid to the noble Lord, Lord Spens, for his action against the Bank of England was revoked; and why the decision was made so late.[HL3154]

The Lord Chancellor: The noble Lord, Lord Spens, had a limited certificate that did not include trial. The board declined to extend it and moved to discharge it because, on the standard legal aid merits test, it was no longer reasonable in the circumstances for public funds to support the noble Lord, Lord Spens, in his action against the Bank of England. The confidentiality provisions of Section 38 of the Legal Aid Act prevent me from discussing the details further. However, I am satisfied that the board acted properly. It has a duty to keep merits under review throughout the life of a case and must discharge a certificate where the merits of a case no longer justify public funding, even if it is on the eve of a trial. The noble Lord, Lord Spens, was given an early opportunity to appeal against the board's decision but decided not to.

At a technical level it is important to note that the noble Lord's legal aid certificate was discharged, not revoked. Therefore he is not liable for the costs the board had incurred on his case up to the date of discharge. Had his certificate been revoked, he would have been.

Leave to Appeal to the House of Lords

Lord Lester of Herne Hill asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What has been the average period of time for the determination of petitions for leave to appeal to the House of Lords during each of the last three years.[HL2688]

The Lord Chancellor: In order to answer this Question, the different stages involved in the determination of a petition for leave to appeal must first be identified. They are:


    1. Presentation--when the petitioner first presents his petition for leave to appeal to the House;


    2. Sending up--when the petitioner has lodged all the necessary supplementary papers and the petition is sent to an Appeal Committee;


    3. Initial determination--when the Appeal Committee may refuse leave, or, if provisionally minded to give leave, invite respondents' objections; and


    4. Final determination--when leave is finally given or refused. This may be at the same time as the initial determination, or may follow respondents' objections or a hearing. The most significant statistic in relation to assessing the effectiveness of the procedure is the length of time

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    between stages 2 and 3. Since the beginning of 1997, the Appeal Committee has set a target of eight sitting weeks for this stage.

The statistics below include Recesses and these necessarily distort the statistics. The statistics are further distorted by cases where a petition for leave is presented but where the supplementary papers are not lodged by the petitioner for some time. The statistics cover all petitions for leave to appeal lodged in each of the years 1996, 1997 and 1998.

1. Average (mean) number of weeks from presentation to final determination:


    1998: 9.92


    1997: 16.74


    1996: 17.53

2. Average number of weeks from presentation to initial determination:


    1998: 8.62


    1997: 15.06


    1996: 15.53

3. Average number of weeks from a petition being sent to an Appeal Committee to the committee's initial report:


    1998: 3.40


    1997: 3.77


    1996: 3.49

The following information is also helpful in analysing the statistics:

Number of petitions

YearPresentedDetermined
1998264262
1997252228
1996216190

Determination of Appeals to the House of Lords

Lord Lester of Herne Hill asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What has been the average period of time for the determination of appeals to the House of Lords, from the date when leave to appeal has been granted by the House of Lords to the date of determination of the appeal, during each of the last three years.[HL2689]

The Lord Chancellor: In order to answer this Question, the different stages involved in the determination of an appeal must first be identified. The most important stages are:


    1. Presentation--when the appellant first presents his petition of appeal;


    2. Setting down--when the parties have prepared all the supplementary documents such as the

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    records of what happened in the lower courts, their cases and evidence;


    3. Hearing--when the appeal is heard by the Law Lords; and


    4. Judgment--when the Law Lords report to the House (judgment).

The length of time between stages 1 and 2 is largely within the parties' control. That between stages 2 and 3 is dependent on the predicted length of the case, the availability of counsel and, most important, the number of set-down appeals already waiting to be heard. The period between stages 3 and 4 represents the time taken by the Law Lords to prepare their opinions.

The statistics below include Recesses and cases referred to the Court of Justice of the European Communities, both of which distort the statistics. The statistics cover all appeals heard in each of the years 1996, 1997 and 1998. The answer to the earlier question, HL2700, indicated how many appeals were disposed of in each year.

1. Average (mean) number of weeks from presentation to judgment:


    1998: 49.44


    1997: 51.11


    1996: 51.50

2. Average number of weeks from presentation to setting down:


    1998: 14.25


    1997: 14.04


    1996: 16.84

3. Average number of weeks from setting down to hearing:


    1998: 20.87


    1997: 24.28


    1996: 20.94

4. Average number of weeks from hearing to judgment:


    1998: 14.32


    1997: 12.79


    1996: 13.72

5. Average number of weeks from setting down to judgment:


    1998: 35.19


    1997: 37.07


    1996: 34.66

Metropolitan Police District: Speed Cameras

Viscount Simon asked Her Majesty's Government:

    How many Gatso speed cameras are within the Metropolitan Police district; and what is the annual cost of traffic camera operations.[HL3149]

The Minister of State, Home Office (Lord Williams of Mostyn): The Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police tells me that there are 285 speed

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sites at which 29 cameras are deployed on a rotational basis within the Metropolitan Police district. In addition, there are 251 traffic light sites at which 24 cameras are deployed on a rotational basis. He also tells me that approximately 70,000 cases per year are processed at an annual cost to the Metropolitan Police of £2.7 million.

Metropolitan Police District: Fatal Road Accidents

Viscount Simon asked Her Majesty's Government:

    How many fatal accidents there were on the roads within the Metropolitan Police district for each of the past five years; and what is the current average total cost of each fatal accident.[HL3150]

Lord Williams of Mostyn: The Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police tells me that the number of fatal accidents for each of the past five years is as shown below:


    1998: 241


    1997: 276


    1996: 264


    1995: 234


    1994: 291

The cost to society of a fatal collision, based on figures from the Department for the Environment, Transport and the Regions Highways Economic Note No. 1 September 1998, is £1,042,410.


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