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Wednesday 22 February 2017
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Speech: Swift and sure justice

 

Justice Minister Nick Herbert speaks at the launch of the Government's White Paper on criminal justice reform.

 

Introduction

Can I begin by thanking Policy Exchange for holding this event and PA Consulting for hosting it.

Two years ago, in a speech to Policy Exchange, early in the life of the Coalition Government I set out our approach to policing and criminal justice.
 
I said then that the public consistently say they want three simple things from the criminal justice system.
They want the police to be there for them;

They want action to be taken when crime is committed (including antisocial behaviour which can too often be ignored), And they want criminals to face the consequences for the crimes they commit.

Today, I am launching a new White Paper setting out plans for reform of the criminal justice system and showing how we will meet those public expectations.
 
It is also nearly a year since the outbreak of last summer's riots, when the justice system was put to the test. So this is also a good opportunity to remind ourselves of the outstanding work that the criminal justice system did to bring offenders to justice, the lessons we learnt, and how we've used these to inform our programme of reform.

 

 

Diagnosis

There is much that is good about our criminal justice system. It is fiercely independent. It is scrupulous in respecting the rights of defendants. It is undoubtedly fair. And it is staffed by dedicated professionals.

But, it is also slow, both in bringing cases to a conclusion, and in adapting to new ideas and new technologies. It is opaque, with lengthy, complex procedures which make little sense to the public.
 
It can be too concerned with defendants, and too little concerned about victims.
 
And, at over £20 billion a year, it is one of the most expensive criminal justice systems in the world. So I believe we do need reform which protects the best of our justice system, protects the values and safeguards which we all cherish, while addressing its weaknesses.
 

 

August riots

Last August, this country witnessed some of the worst civil unrest in a generation, with levels of violence and disorder that required a swift, tough response. And that's precisely what happened.
 
Police officers put themselves at risk to restore order. And then they worked with their partners in the criminal justice system - prosecutors, judges and magistrates, courts and probation staff, as well as defence practitioners - late into the night. During that time, we saw justice dispensed in a matter of hours and days, rather than weeks and months.

In the first month, 1,700 people were charged and brought before the courts. By June this had risen to more than 3,000 with just under 2,000 convicted.

I am certain that this swift and sure response was key to ensuring that the violence was soon quashed, and order was quickly restored. And this is a view shared by the Director of Public Prosecutions.

I want to take this opportunity, once again, to put on record my appreciation for what those who work in the criminal justice system did during this time.

But when we see that the system can achieve this kind of performance, we are compelled to ask some searching questions.

If criminal justice agencies are capable of working together to bring offenders before the courts so quickly, why do the wheels of justice routinely grind so much more slowly?

Why is it that in the normal course of events it takes five months between an offence being committed and the disposal of a case in a magistrates' court?

And why do fewer than half of cases not go ahead on the scheduled date? Imagine if airlines were run like that. Or any other organisation, for that matter.

We learned something else after the riots. Most of the offenders brought before the courts had long criminal records and were well known to the authorities. On average, they had already committed 11 crimes each – 20,000 offences in total.
 
Clearly, these previous encounters with the criminal justice system had had little meaningful effect on their behaviour. And that is why, as well as dealing with offenders swiftly, we need to get a proper grip on them, taking the right action to prevent them from sliding into ever more serious offending.

So, I want to see, and the public has a right to expect, justice that is both swift and sure. And that's the title of our White Paper.
Swift, so that cases are dealt with promptly and efficiently and sure, so that the system can be relied upon to dispense justice fairly but with certainty, and in a way that commands public confidence.
 

 

Swift justice

There's an old joke – which I hope that any lawyers in the audience will forgive me for repeating - that a bad lawyer can make your case drag on for months. But a good one can make it last much longer.

Actually I don't seek to blame any group within the system for all its failings. Because the fact is that there has been a culture in the criminal justice system that has tolerated delay.

This is bad for victims and witnesses, because it makes a difficult situation worse. It's bad for the taxpayer, because time is money.
And it is bad for the public, because both evidence and intuition tell us that the sooner an offender can be faced with the consequences of their crime, the lower the chance of them re-offending.

Many argue that justice cannot be rushed, but I'm not calling for rushed justice. They say that that complex cases such as fraud, rape and murder require a measured response and meticulous preparation. Well I agree. But the large majority of cases are relatively minor, don't have to go to trial, or are uncontested. There is no reason why these shouldn't be brought to justice far more quickly.

One study found that 53 separate process steps were being undertaken in magistrates' court cases for common assault which took 15 weeks to complete.

But for most of that time, nothing was happening. Those cases were only actively being worked on for just over six hours. Six hours of active work in cases that were taking 15 weeks.

I know that the Judiciary recognise and support the need for reform, and I want to pay tribute to the work which they have led. They have developed and are implementing two programmes which should ensure that cases are dealt with more quickly. The Early Guilty Plea scheme is now operating in 28 Crown Court centres and sees cases in which a guilty plea has been offered, or is anticipated, fast-tracked. This saves time and unnecessary case preparation, and avoids wasted hearings.

Stop Delaying Justice seeks to achieve similar outcomes in cases before the magistrates' courts. The simple triaging of cases can enable straightforward cases to be brought to justice far more quickly.

In Maidstone, for instance, targeted case preparation and the creative use of technology has seen cases such as shoplifting reach court within 24 hours, instead of the usual weeks.
 

 

Technology

Technology has a big role to play in making a reality of swift justice. While the rest of the world has embraced e-mail, criminal justice has retained an archaic love of paper

When, last year, I met a police officer who had to waste time photocopying files for court, I knew that something was very wrong.

IT systems in the criminal justice agencies don't talk to each other, wasting time by requiring multiple keying and an inability to transfer documents electronically.

But now things are starting to change.

Most police forces are now preparing case files digitally, sending them electronically to the CPS. All magistrates' courts can now receive case files electronically from the CPS. All prosecution advocates have tablet devices so that they can prosecute cases in court without needing a paper file. You're going to see a demonstration of this technology in a few minutes. And defence lawyers are also starting to sign up for this.
I congratulate the police, the CPS and the courts for driving these changes. But we can't stop here. Many police officers are starting to use toughbooks, PDAs and other devices to capture more information at the frontline in a digital format. And our collective ambition must be much greater. it must be to develop systems across the agencies that are truly integrated, with a single point of data entry.

We are driving another technological revolution by investing £10 million in upgrading and improving video links in court. By the end of this year, there will be video facilities in every crown court and magistrates' courts centre. We believe that, where appropriate, video should be used routinely in proceedings.

So that fewer prisoners will to be transported to and from court to attend proceedings that often last a matter of minutes. So that more police officers will be able to give evidence remotely from the police station, avoiding the need to hang around at court. You will hear from a police officer who uses this livelinks technology in a minute.

And so that more witnesses will be able to give evidence away from court, as you will see in a film which we're about to show you. Last month, in Kent, a Lithuanian lorry driver was banned for drink-driving a little over two hours after being charged.

Normally, having failed a breathalyser test, the driver would have been charged and bailed to appear before magistrates at a future date, perhaps a couple of weeks later. During that period, the driver would be free to continue driving, and there is, of course, the very real risk that he wouldn't turn up in court.

But in this case, the driver appeared at court from the police station via the virtual court system. He was charged with the offence at 9.21 am, pleaded guilty, and by 11.35 am, he was disqualified from driving for 36 months, fined £1,500 and ordered to pay costs. That's what I mean by swift justice.

And as well as virtual courts we need flexible courts. After the experience of the riots, the then chairman of the Magistrates' Association suggested that courts could open for longer, including evenings and weekends. The criminal justice system is already operating more flexibly.

Up to 100 magistrates' courts are opening regularly at weekends and Bank Holidays to respond to local need.
And we're piloting more flexible working arrangements including earlier starts, sitting later into the evening and on Sundays.
 

 

Sure

But it's not enough for justice to be swift. I've said before that too often the State acts like a bad parent, neglectful in repeatedly tolerating bad behaviour, then inevitably harsh.

We need to set clear rules and boundaries from the start, gripping low-level offending before it escalates into more serious criminality.
Our troubled families programme, set up in response to the riots, is encouraging schools, the police, youth offending teams and others to work together to deal with problem behaviour.

We are driving better enforcement of fines, including by allowing more to be taken from benefits. We are ensuring that all community sentences contain a punitive element, and that unpaid work is rigorous.

We are pioneering a rehabilitation revolution by making prisons places of hard work and training, getting offenders off drugs and alcohol and paying by results to ensure that offenders go straight. These are all important elements of sure justice.

We need to ensure that the signals which the criminal justice sends to offenders are clear and unambiguous. We will help to deal with the causes of offending behaviour. We will help offenders back into work. But fines will be paid. Curfew conditions will be enforced. Unpaid work will be hard.

I believe we can learn the lessons from initiatives such as the HOPE project being run in Hawaii. It tackles those who fail to comply with court requirements by focusing on swift, predictable, and immediate sanctions - including the use of flash incarceration - for drug use or missed appointments.

By understanding the value of rules and certain sanction, the HOPE programme has reduced crime. That is what I mean by sure justice.
Elected Police & Crime Commissioners will also have a role to play in delivering sure justice.

They present a real opportunity to galvanise local police, prosecution and courts to work together and focus on preventing crime and reducing re-offending. We have already announced that PCCs should take on the commissioning of local victim services.

And I have always been clear that we should keep the door open to PCCs having a greater role across the criminal justice system. No decisions have been taken, but we are actively considering whether PCCs should take on the commissioning of services for offenders. And over time, I see the potential for PCCs to become local leaders in the delivery of criminal justice services, working with local criminal justice partnerships to implement that vital cross-criminal justice system reform on the ground.

Police & Crime Commissioners are a new innovation, but I also want to reinvigorate the role of one of the most historic players in the criminal justice system, the lay magistracy.

I believe that we need to value magistrates more. And I want to find new ways to ensure that magistrates remain at the heart of community justice.

So we are proposing to allow single magistrates to sit outside of courts, for instance in community centres, to dispense rapid and effective justice in low-level, uncontested cases.

I know that magistrates have been concerned by the growth of out of court disposals, and others such as the Lord Chief Justice and Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary have also raised questions about their proper use.

I share these concerns. Now, I want to be clear, out of court disposals can be useful tools for the police to deliver on-the-spot justice and exercise their discretion, which we want, but they must be used appropriately.

That's why I want to see magistrates given a role in scrutinising the use of such disposals, building on the excellent work that has been done by Hampshire police. 

We are also developing a simple Justice Test for police officers to use on the street to help ensure that these sanctions are only used in appropriate circumstances and build public confidence. We are working with the police in the development of that test.

I was also want magistrates to be involved as volunteers on Neighbourhood Justice Panels. With their focus on restorative justice, getting offenders to make visible reparation to the community, these panels will strengthen public confidence in the system.

A community sanction, for example repairing a broken window, or mending a fence, will often be far more meaningful to the offender and the victim than a standard out-of-court disposal.
 
We are now piloting 15 of these panels, building on the models in Sheffield, Norfolk and Somerset, but my ambition is to see them in towns and cities across the country, involving the community to deliver justice.

Just as neighbourhood policing reclaimed policing for communities, so I want neighbourhood justice to reclaim justice for the people.
Earlier this year I visited Rotterdam and saw their Neighbourhood Takes Charge scheme. This gives direct control of about 100 hours of community policing a month to local community panels for them target on what they think will improve their areas. The officers involved spoke enthusiastically about how this scheme helped them to reduce crime and build public confidence in the police. And now there are police forces in this country who want to trial similar schemes.

Citizens aren't a threat to justice. They are integral to our justice system, whether in the person of lay magistrates or juries. What I am proposing with neighbourhood justice is not an alternative to the formal criminal justice system, but a measured return of power and responsibility to communities to resolve less serious crimes quickly and rigorously.
 

 

Transparency

Our system of justice depends on public confidence. And open justice is a fundamental principle. That's why I believe it's so important that the system is made more transparent.

It can be opaque and impenetrable, familiar to the lawyers who understand it but a mystery to victims and remote to communities.
So we must open the system up.

We have already introduced legislation which will allow some parts of court cases to be broadcast, starting with Court of Appeal cases next year. 

We now publish data on court timeliness, sentencing outcomes and re-offending rates. And we've just added justice outcomes on our street level crime mapping website, www.police.uk, which has had an incredible 47 million visits since its launch. Now people can see not just that a crime has been committed, but what happened afterwards.

And they will want to know more. Already some police forces are publishing the identity of convicted criminals on their websites. So the next step will be the widespread naming of offenders online so that communities have confidence that justice has been done.
There are privacy issues to address, including protecting victims.

But as the founder of modern policing, Sir Robert Peel, said when he encountered opposition to setting up his new police force, "liberty does not consist in having your home robbed by organised gangs of thieves."
 

 

Victims

Swift, sure and open justice will strengthen community confidence and help to fight crime. But there is one group of people who it will help most of all: the victims of crime. To be a victim of a crime, even a minor one, is a horrible thing. We should not make it worse through inexcusable delays in bringing offenders to justice. The sooner criminals face the consequences of their actions, the lower the chance of their harming people again.

So this is our radical plan for criminal justice reform. From a so-called 'system” that actually operated in silos, we are building one where police, prosecution and courts work together more effectively.

And I pay tribute to the work that criminal justice professionals are doing right now to improve the system. It's their effort and ideas that will deliver real change, change which has already begun. And I'm delighted to be joined today by Jim Barker-McCardle, Chief Constable of Essex and ACPO lead on criminal justice, Peter Lewis, Chief Executive of the CPS, and Peter Handcock, Chief Executive of Her Majesty's Courts and Tribunal Service. That means we have the senior operational leaders of the criminal justice system and I'd like to thank them and their staff and people they represent for all the work that is being done.

From November, elected police and crime commissioners will help to forge this change, and, with a new responsibility for victims, will ensure that crime is tackled effectively and the cycle of re-offending broken.

None of these reforms will compromise historic rights or important principles of justice. Rather, the reverse: justice must be swift, sure and seen to be done, or it is not done at all.
 

 

Ministry of Justice logo

Date Published: 

16/07/2012 

 

Source:

Ministry of Justice