Michael Fabricant believes that it is becoming increasingly difficult for the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) to obtain successful convictions in south Staffordshire since the closure of Lichfield Magistrates' Court. “There is growing evidence that witnesses are unwilling to travel around Staffordshire to give evidence. Staff who co-ordinate witnesses say that Lichfield and Burntwood residents are unwilling to travel to longer distances. Now, the CPS are holding back on prosecutions in case they are unable secure a conviction; they are concerned their conviction rate will fall. As local magistrates and I predicted, local justice has been ill served by this Government which has presided over the closure of the Magistrates' Court.” says Michael Fabricant.
At the last Ministerial Question Time in the House of Commons before the recess on Thursday 27th July, Mr Fabricant cross-questioned the Solicitor General. The extract (from Hansard) is reproduced below.
Mr. Michael Fabricant (Lichfield): If he will make a statement on the CPS’s success rate in prosecutions in South Staffordshire.
The Solicitor-General (Mr. Ross Cranston): In the year ending March 2000, the South Staffordshire branch of the Crown Prosecution Service secured 11,228 convictions in magistrates courts, representing 98.7 per cent. of all cases proceeding to a hearing. A further 596 convictions were recorded in the Crown court, amounting to 87.8 per cent. of hearings. These figures indicate that the service is making a strong and effective contribution to criminal justice in that part of the country.
Mr. Fabricant: The Government are becoming renowned not only for their contempt for Parliament, but for their contempt for traditions. The Solicitor-General will be aware that the magistrates court in Lichfield closed a few months ago, after 600 years of progress. When will he meet the witness service in Staffordshire, which tells me that it is becoming increasingly difficult to persuade witnesses to travel from Lichfield to Tamworth and other parts of Staffordshire and the west midlands to give evidence? When will he accept that his Government’s decision to close Lichfield magistrates court was the wrong decision?
The Solicitor-General: I know that the hon. Gentleman has campaigned strongly on this matter, although the strength of the argument does not increase with repetition. There is a tension between efficiency and effectiveness in the processing of cases through the courts on the one hand and local justice on the other. A balance has to be struck and, in the case of Lichfield, the balance was struck by a decision to close the court. That was only after a careful evaluation of the need for witnesses to travel distances to other courts. I believe that the decision was a right one.