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Case for increased local control over criminal justice made in new report supported by Vera Baird QC

15th December 2016

A new report from the think tank Governup will argue that top-down reform of criminal justice has failed and will argue for Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs) and directly elected Mayors to be given greater power over youth justice, prosecution, court performance and adult prison budgets.

The report, published today, will point to figures that show a criminal justice system that is struggling to cope with growing demand and increasingly squeezed budgets, including:

  • Record backlogs in our courts, reflected in victims having to wait longer than ever to get justice;
  • Overcrowded and increasingly unsafe prisons, with a 31% rise (to 22,195) in the number of assaults in prisons across England and Wales over the last year;
  • Rates of reoffending for people leaving prison (60%) that have been static for over a decade;
  • Catastrophically low levels of public confidence – less than half of people (48%) believe that the Criminal Justice System is effective.

The report will say that fears that devolution might lead to a ‘postcode lottery’ are increasingly irrelevant since performance is already so varied and poor.

PCCs or directly elected Mayors should be given the tools to join up services across an area – in order to deal with the root cause of crime and end the cycle of repeat offending – rather than managing its consequences. The key recommendations are:

  • Fully devolving youth justice services to PCCs and directly-elected mayors, including youth custody;
  • Greater local oversight over the performance of the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) with local prosecutors having to work up joint prosecution priorities with the PCC;
  • Devolving responsibility for out of court disposals to PCCs and directly elected mayors
  • Fully devolving the adult prison budget for short sentenced prisoners and women prisoners to PCCs and directly-elected mayors;
  • Over time, devolving probation services to PCCs and directly elected mayors;

Rt Hon. Nick Herbert MP, Conservative MP for Arundel and South Downs, Co- Chair of GovernUp said,

“We need a radical shift in power to the local level. This is where the solutions and the innovation will be found to cut costs and improve services, not in Whitehall.

“There is a consensus emerging in government that Mayors or PCCs are capable and credible agents, not just for overseeing the police, but in having a broader set of powers to improve the criminal justice system. The recommendations in this report set out what these new powers should be, and why it is now important to take justice devolution to the next level.

“Devolution will take different forms in different areas and there are clearly challenges to resolve to safeguard judicial and prosecutorial independence for example. But devolution may well be the best answer to some of society’s most intractable problems of rising complex crime demands and shrinking budgets.”

Harvey Redgrave, Director of Strategy at Crest Advisory and author of the report on justice devolution.

“Our criminal justice system is in a parlous state. Victims are waiting longer than ever to get justice, our prisons are overcrowded and dangerous and the same number of prisoners are reoffending as over a decade ago.

Many of the levers for change lie outside the criminal justice system, including better education, health and access to accommodation. But local areas have neither the means, nor incentive to invest in alternatives to prison. Devolving justice services would give Police and Crime Commissioners and directly elected mayors the ability to deal with the root cause of crime, rather than managing the cost of failure.

Northumbria Police and Crime Commissioner and Chair of the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners, Vera Baird QC, said: “In my role as PCC I am committed to working closely with the courts, probation services, youth offending teams, prisons and the Crown Prosecution Service to ensure the efficiency of the wider criminal justice system and so I welcome this report which acknowledges the need for all PCCs to be working to join up these services and ensure they are working effectively.

“The Government needs to recognise the increasing pressure that the criminal justice system is being placed under. Services for victims and witnesses should be the focus of all improvements and the government will need to invest to make positive change happen.”