Questions to the Attorney General

23rd May 2019

Geoffrey Cox, answers MPs’ questions to the Attorney General.

Prosecution Rates: Electoral Fraud

5. What recent discussions he has had with the CPS on prosecution rates for electoral fraud. [911057]

The Crown Prosecution Service works closely with the police, including by providing early investigative advice, to consider any allegations of electoral fraud in accordance with the code of Crown prosecutors. The Crown Prosecution Service recognises the importance of protecting democracy, and all cases involving election offences are referred to specialist prosecutors within the Crown Prosecution Service’s special crime and counter-terrorism division.

Of 266 reported electoral fraud cases last year, only one resulted in a conviction. The Vote Leave campaign dropping its appeal is as good as its admitting the illegality and illegitimacy of the 2016 referendum result. When will electoral law breaking be treated as a serious crime? Will the Attorney General also ensure that there is a full, transparent, independent inquiry into the foreign funding of Nigel Farage’s new vehicle?

The hon. Lady is quite right that electoral fraud is serious. From whichever side it comes—a referendum campaign or a political party—it must be dealt with according to the law, and it is dealt with unflinchingly. We have an independent Electoral Commission that investigates electoral fraud, and it is right that the Government should allow the commission to be independent, as it must be. However, if a case is referred to the Crown Prosecution Service, it is dealt with precisely according to the code in the same way as any other offence. It is dealt with by trained specialist prosecutors, and a single point of contact in each police force is also trained in election offences. While there may be many allegations, those that are fit for prosecution will be prosecuted—I can give the hon. Lady that assurance.

I think that we all agree that electoral fraud should be rooted out and tackled, but the question is one of priorities. Many of us fail to understand why the Government appear obsessed with personation and individual electoral fraud, spending so much time and energy on a problem that is virtually non-existent, at a time when the Electoral Commission finds Vote Leave and other campaigns guilty of electoral fraud and is currently investigating the Brexit party. Is it not time that the Government reassessed their priorities and focused on the organised campaigns that try to thwart our procedures?

I cannot comment on any ongoing investigations that may be carried out, as the hon. Gentleman will understand, but the Electoral Commission, as he knows, is independent and is charged with responsibility for ensuring the integrity of elections. The commission has a full range of powers that it is able to use, and it takes its decisions with full independence.

I assure the hon. Gentleman that if any prima facie case of electoral fraud is referred to the Crown Prosecution Service, it will be dealt with with complete and utter impartiality, and will be prosecuted.

Order. Very briefly, the remaining questions.


Support for Parliamentarians (Intimidation and Harassment)

6. What steps the CPS is taking to support parliamentarians in responding to intimidating behaviour and harassment. [911058]

Everyone should be free to go about their business without facing abuse or harassment, and the Crown Prosecution Service recently published an information pack to help Members of this House and the other place to recognise possible criminal conduct and to report it to the police. Criminal offences committed against Members of this House imperil the democratic process and public service, and the Crown Prosecution Service is fully committed to pursuing prosecutions in these cases, wherever appropriate.

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that it is important that colleagues and members of staff who think they have been abused or harassed come forward to report those cases so that we can get this exemplary system working here in Parliament?

I do agree, and I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that question. It is vital that everybody should have the courage and confidence to be able to come forward. The pack that was given to all Members of this House indicates how to report it and the process that will be followed, and that publication is a good guide, I hope, to the way in which both staff and Members should deal with the matter.

This is deepest complacency. These are supposed to be topical questions. Lord Neuberger has said that the justice system is in crisis because of legal aid cuts. Does the Attorney General accept that the Crown Prosecution Service is so under-resourced that it cannot do its job?

A man drove into a bus queue in my constituency, killing a little girl and injuring two other people. The CPS did not even charge him with careless driving. Something is deeply wrong with the CPS, and the Attorney General should wake up to it.

I admire the hon. Gentleman’s passion, and I am sure it is entirely well grounded and sincere. The Crown Prosecution Service applies the code of conduct for prosecutors. In those circumstances, it is completely right that it does so impartially. I do not know the case to which he refers but, if he writes to me, I am certainly willing to look into it. Question 6 is on the abuse and harassment of Members of this House and the other place, and I hope we can both agree that any such abuse and harassment is deplorable and contemptible, and is an attack upon democracy.

Finally, and briefly, Mr Jim Cunningham.


Prosecution of Sexual Offences (Criminal Gangs)

9. What recent discussions he has had with the Director of Public Prosecutions on ensuring more effective prosecutions of cases of (a) rape and (b) other sexual offences where the victims are involved in criminal gangs. [911061]

The offences of gang-related rape and other sexual violence, including child sexual exploitation, are dealt with by specially trained rape and serious sexual offences lawyers who work closely with police investigators to build strong cases. The training is regularly updated, as is the legal guidance, to support the effectiveness of rape and sexual offences prosecutions, including building awareness of victims and the issues connected with victims in the context of gang-related violence.

I draw the Attorney General’s attention to the fact that organisations such as the Coventry rape and sexual abuse centre are struggling to be funded. These organisations play a major role in advising victims. When will these organisations be properly funded, and will he meet me to discuss it?

Whether the hon. Gentleman is referring to organisations inside or outside the Crown Prosecution Service, I am very happy to meet him if the matter is within my sphere of responsibility. I can assure him that the Government are now reviewing why there is a problem of reported cases of rape going up and the number of convictions and prosecutions going down. We are concerned to tackle it, which is why we are seeking to get to the bottom of the factors that affect it, but they are complicated factors. It is not as easy as saying, “Well, the prosecutors are not prosecuting enough.” There are many factors affecting this question, and we all need to come together to inquire into it and to reach the right solutions.