The Public Accounts Committee report published this morning makes difficult reading for Ministers and officials in the Home Office and Ministry of Justice, but it will also be of interest to Police and Crime Commissioners considering how best to deliver their commitments to keep their communities safe.
A key theme running throughout is just how interconnected the criminal justice system is – with inefficiencies in individual parts of the system leading to increased costs for others. If the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) has not prepared properly for a trial, it can lead to extra costs for the courts service.
PCCs know that their ability to keep communities safe will depend on their ability to drive performance across the system. But today’s report illustrates just how much of a challenge this is likely to be. Amongst the most eye catching headlines:
- Two thirds of trials in the Crown Court are delayed or do not go ahead at all, with a backlog of 51,830 cases in the system awaiting a hearing as at September 2015
- Victims and witnesses are having to wait longer for offences to be brought to justice
- Only 55% of those who have been a witness say they would be prepared to do so again
It is impossible to ignore the context of government cuts since 2010, (particularly the lack of available prosecutors which is flagged explicitly by PAC), though measuring to what extent underperformance is linked to lack of resources is impossible because in most cases, the data is only available back to 2010. We also know there are more steps in our Criminal Justice System (CJS) than the 798 in the BT Tower, and that many of the steps are unnecessary. The solution may not involve throwing additional money at the problem.
So what are the implications for PCCs?
- Transparency on performance must be driven through the system. If decision makers and citizens don’t understand where there are specific problems, they can’t bring pressure to bear on parts of the system that need to improve. There are plenty of vested interests stopping this openness. But there were before the publication of crime data; something that was delivered successfully. And some pioneers have led the charge to allow wider scrutiny of performance. (Martyn Underhill in Dorset and Wessex Criminal Justice Board deserve particular mention here. The Justice Secretary Michael Gove is pushing this work too.) Knowing which courts are run properly, the quality of case files being prepared, or the length of time it takes for different offences to be prosecuted is important. And it’s perfectly possible.
- The system is not focused enough on victims. Criminal justice leaders can’t say that they care about victims and witnesses if poor Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) file preparation or court management means that victims turn up for court only to hear that the case will not proceed or for a late guilty plea. It’s not good enough and PCCs have the mandate to shine a light on poor performance, with the backing of the Ministry of Justice.
- Confusion on devolution doesn’t help. As this morning’s report pointed out, the March Budget announcements of greater criminal justice devolution to Greater Manchester and Lincolnshire left a lot of the detail still to be worked through. High on the list of things to be resolved is how devolution will impact upon existing working arrangements and responsibilities. Following recent policy changes, police, the CPS, HM Courts & Tribunals Service (HMCTS) and probation are currently organised across different geographical boundaries, making the job of collaboration much more difficult.
This reflects a wider anxiety about the process of devolution amongst some local leaders. Currently it appears to be proceeding in an ad hoc and piecemeal way and there is a lack of clarity within government about how the relationship of PCCs and Mayors within the CJS (and more widely) should evolve over time, with mixed views from Treasury and MoJ. For example, it is unclear what devolution will look like in Lincolnshire given the complexity of governance that would be involved, including an elected mayor, two different PCCs and two Chief Constables. Central government should work with PCCs to set out a vision for criminal justice devolution that can be communicated across the country. Look out for more from Governup on this in the coming months.
PCCs who have not chaired criminal justice boards say they will start doing so – we’ve written before about how important this is. Others, like Katy Bourne, have already reviewed and improved workings of their local criminal justice boards. And the best know that they need to truly understand performance, rather than just accepting static, aggregated reports.
To support these reformers, we have developed a web-based dashboard to do just that and are testing it with the most forward looking PCCs. Harvey leads our work in this area; to hear what our clients have said about our work get in touch with him at email@example.com
We’d also like to hear your thoughts on Twitter @crestadvisory
True accountability is not easy. But small steps towards a transparent system do not need to cost the earth and would be a giant leap for justice.
Gavin Lockhart-Mirams is Crest Advisory’s Chair and has led the team since setting up the company at the end of 2011.
Director of Development
Jon Clements draws on nearly two decades experience in public affairs, the media and criminal justice to ensure Crest offers clients the support they need to achieve their goals. A former national newspaper and broadcast journalist, Jon leads on Crest’s positioning and oversees the development of new business and marketing.