Press release

Creating a swift and sure criminal justice system

Far-reaching plans to reform the Criminal Justice System were launched today by Criminal Justice Minister Nick Herbert.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Far-reaching plans to reform the Criminal Justice System by reducing delays, tackling waste and overhauling unnecessarily bureaucratic systems were launched today by Criminal Justice Minister Nick Herbert.

In ‘Swift and Sure Justice: The Government’s Plans for Reform of the Criminal Justice System’  the Government sets out plans to modernise criminal justice services, speed up court cases, improve transparency so the public can understand how the system works, and engage local communities in dealing with low-level offending.
Policing and Criminal Justice Minister Nick Herbert said:

‘During last year’s riots, we saw cases that normally take weeks and months being dealt with in just hours and days. We want this to become the norm, not the exception.

‘That is why we want a more flexible Criminal Justice System, including extending opening hours for courts, maximising the use of technology through virtual courts and prison to court video links and looking at radical proposals to speed up cases where offenders plead guilty.

‘The Criminal Justice System must be more transparent and accountable to the local communities it services, so we are opening up the justice system and involving communities directly in resolving problem behaviour and low-level crimes, as well as introducing Police and Crime Commissioners to make the system democratically answerable to the public.’

Plans include:

  • Trialling flexible court opening hours across the country so the system can respond to local needs - for example introducing opening hours on Sundays and expanding them on Saturdays in order to deal with offenders arrested over the weekend, rather than having to hold them in custody until their cases can be heard on Monday morning. Early morning and evening sittings will also be tested.
  • Extending the use of video technology in the Criminal Justice System - including rolling out new prison-to-court video links to all Crown Courts and more prisons to save vital time and money spent transporting prisoners to and from court. This follows the ongoing expansion of ‘live links’ which enable police officers to give evidence by video from their police station, instead of spending their working day waiting at a court.
  • Making the justice system more transparent and accountable - by using elected Police and Crime Commissioners to drive local accountability for policing and providing the public with better information about local court services and criminal justice agencies through innovative projects like Police and Crime Commissioners can also play a key role in getting agencies to work together and will drive down policing costs at a local level.
  • Empowering local communities to deal with anti-social behaviour and low level offending through ‘Neighbourhood Justice Panels’ in 15 areas across the country. These will use community representatives and restorative justice techniques to get a firm and early grip on offending, preventing problems from escalating unnecessarily.
  • Speeding up justice - possibly through single magistrates dealing with low level crimes where the offender pleads guilty (instead of needing a bench of two or three magistrates as at present). We will also explore how single magistrates could provide a more visible link between the summary justice system and local communities.
  • Empowering police and other criminal justice professionals to exercise their discretion fairly and consistently - Out-of-court disposals allow the police to deal quickly and proportionately with low-level, often first-time offending which does not merit prosecution at court, freeing them up to spend more time on frontline duties - but we know there have been problems, which need addressing. So we have swept away all targets in this area, to give back discretion to the police and we are now introducing a ‘Justice Test’ to help police officers on the street decide how best to deal with matters before them, to help ensure that out-of-court disposals are used appropriately and effectively

The plans form part of the government’s wider work to reform the justice system to cut reoffending, prevent crime and most importantly reduce the number of victims of crime.

They are being brought forward by all of the partners involved in operating the Criminal Justice System, including Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunal Service, the Crown Prosecution Service, police, and the prison and probation services.

Chief Constable Jim Barker-McCardle, lead for Criminal Justice at the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO), said:

‘Recent years have seen significant developments that all serve to make the criminal justice system more efficient without compromising the overriding objective that criminal cases be dealt with justly. The current and ambitious efficiency programme has made very good progress but we recognise there is more to do to embed new processes and continue to pursue greater efficiency especially in a modern digital age. That has to be in the best interests of victims, prosecution and defence witnesses and all parties within the wider criminal justice system.’

Peter Lewis, chief executive of the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), added:

‘We have made a really good start in reforming and streamlining processes within the criminal justice system, but there is much more to do. This is an opportunity to embed these processes and to continue to reform the Criminal Justice System, ensuring it provides the public with an efficient and modern service.’

Last month the government published street level justice outcome data on the groundbreaking and popular website so for the first time the public can see what happens next after a crime is reported.

Notes to editors

  1. View ‘Swift and Sure Justice: The Government’s Plans for Reform of the Criminal Justice System’
  2. View local court information and to find out more about sentencing
  3. View street level crime and justice outcomes information
Published 13 July 2012