The Government’s white paper on criminal justice reform ‘Swift and Sure Justice: the Government’s Plans for Reform of Criminal Justice’ was published last Friday.
Introducing the white paper, the policing and criminal justice minster Nick Herbert said: “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 we are looking at radical proposals to speed up cases where offenders plead guilty.” He told BBC Radio 4′s Today programme: “The whole point of these reforms to ensure swift and sure justice is about putting the victims first. There is no need for unnecessary delay in our criminal justice system.”
The minister, who works out of both the Home Office and MoJ, said that the reforms in the white paper focus on the points where work passes between criminal justice agencies and are designed to enable them to work together more efficiently and effectively. There are plans to overhaul the court system to hold evening and weekend hearings, first introduced at the height of last summer’s riots.
For the Olympics, the CPS and courts intend to fast-track offences involving participants at the games, be they members of teams or spectators, or for offences, such as ticket touting, that occur at Olympic venues. This should not involve extended hours, and the expectation is that local courts may be sitting for shorter hours than usual due to traffic disruption.
Other proposals in the white paper include magistrates sitting on their own to deal with cases involving guilty pleas, magistrates working out of police stations or community centres to speed up the delivery of justice, and greater use of video-links for police officers or defendants to give evidence remotely. Community sentences will be toughened up by introducing a punitive element in every sentence and making those on unpaid work do a full working week. Local magistrates will also be given a supervisory role in scrutinising the use of summary justice by officers.
The proposals have received a mixed reception. Many have expressed fears that the push towards speedier and swifter justice could lose the justice element, and that justice rushed is justice denied. Shadow justice secretary Sadiq Khan said the proposals won’t come cheap and hoped the government would explain exactly how they are going to be funded. John Fassenfelt, chair of the Magistrates Association, welcomed the anticipated changes, but warned that, while most of his members will be pleased to see a role for single justices to deal with low-level uncontested cases, there are concerns about judicial independence. “Magistrates working out of police stations is a no-no”, he said.
Richard Atkinson, a solicitor and chair of the Law Society’s criminal law committee, complained about the lack of any real consultation. He is quoted in the ‘Guardian’ as having reservations about Saturday and Sunday sittings. “Solicitors are contractually obliged, by the Legal Services Commission, to work nine to five, Monday to Friday. Most of the criminal solicitors’ firms are small, sometimes sole practitioners. They cannot compensate with time off during the week”, he said.
The MoJ would welcome views or suggestions on these proposals and the reform programme generally. The full text of the white paper can be found at: