The European Commission for the Efficiency of Justice

Justice in the United Kingdom hardly affected by the Crisis

Among the largest member states the UK is probably one of the hardest hit by the economic crisis. Following the recent general election an emergency budget was introduced where it was announced that public spending would be dramatically reduced. The cuts would be applied across nearly all Government Departments and the Ministry of Justice has been asked to reduce its costs by 23% over four years which amounts to 500 million each year for the next four years.
The Ministry of Justice has just produced a plan to achieve these savings which fall into five areas:

    1. Introducing a rehabilitation revolution:
    Create a system introducing greater involvement of the private and voluntary sectors in the rehabilitation of offenders, including use of payment by results, to cut reoffending;
    2. Reforming of sentences and penalties:
    Ensure that the justice system reduces reoffending by introducing more effective sentencing policies and considering the use of restorative justice for adult and youth crimes;
    3. Reforming courts, tribunals, legal aid and work with others in the delivery of criminal justice:
    Reform the legal aid system to make it work more efficiently, while ensuring that support is provided for those who need it most and for those cases that require it. Develop court reforms to improve the resolution of disputes, maximise efficiency and improve services and work with other stakeholders to make delivery of criminal justice more effective and efficient;
    4. Assuring better law:
    Assure that law-making is transparent and accountable, safeguarding civil liberties and enabling citizens to receive the proper protection of the law;
    5. Reforming how we deliver our services:
    Reform the way the Ministry of Justice works. Reassess ways of working to develop more efficient shared services, match the provision of services more closely to demand, reduce duplication and streamline functions wherever possible.

In reality what will be the impact of the changes? In terms of prisons it is accepted that the prison population is too high and continues to increase at an alarming rate. To combat this, a review will be undertaken of the sentencing policy to make great use of non-custodial sentences e.g. community based penalties together with the introduction of schemes to reduce the re-offending rate. It is also proposed that over 150 courts should close of which many are only part- time courts.
The provision of Legal Aid and a review of costs generally will be undertaken to ensure that those that need assistance will get at and that justice remains affordable. The number of staff working for the Ministry of Justice will be reduced and is expected that 15,000 staff will go, hopefully by natural wastage and voluntary redundancy. The number is made up of 10,000 from the National Offender Management Service and Prison Service. Court staff will be reduced by 3,000 and a further 2,000 from Headquarters and associated bodies.
Although this all sounds like bad news it should be seen as an opportunity to think the unthinkable and drive through radical reforms that would otherwise be opposed and rejected. The overall aim is to make the savings required but still ensure that access to justice is preserved for those who need it and that the community is protected from the effects of crime. Once the changes have all taken effect the Ministry of Justice will be a leaner and effective place better equipped to meet the challenges of the future.

John STACEY
Head of international Development of justice administration
International Directorate
Ministry of Justice of the United Kingdom
Vice-President of the CEPEJ