Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Criminal Justice

3.31 pm

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Jack Straw): With permission, Mr. Speaker, I wish to make a statement about the Command Paper "Criminal Justice: The Way Ahead", copies of which are available in the Vote Office, together with the criminal justice system business plan for 2001-02. Both are published today.

Throughout their period of office, the Government have been determined to tackle crime and the causes of crime, and to build a fair, effective and swift criminal justice system, which commands the full support and confidence of victims and the public.

Reducing crime carries wider responsibilities than those of the criminal justice system alone. The Government have invested in a range of cross-cutting programmes, which tackle the underlying causes of crime. They include sure start for pre-school children, the new Connexions programme, the children's fund, the welfare-to-work programme and the new national treatment agency, which deals with drug abuse. The programmes are a key element in our approach to crime reduction, but they must go hand in hand with changes in the criminal justice system. I am pleased that profound improvement is already under way.

Following an inquiry under Sir Iain Glidewell, the Crown Prosecution Service has been restructured in line with police force boundaries, and a local chief crown prosecutor is now in place for each area. Criminal justice units, which are responsible for processing cases to court, and are now collocated with the police, are being trebled.

The youth justice system is being transformed. The national Youth Justice Board and a network of local youth offending teams are co-ordinating effort against youth crime as never before. Repeat cautioning of juveniles has ended. Graduated court sanctions are helping to ensure that young offenders, and their parents, take greater responsibility for their behaviour, and allow for the active involvement of victims in the process.

From April, for the first time, police, probation, CPS and magistrates will operate in the same, coterminous boundaries. Statutory partnerships between the police, local councils, the health service and voluntary organisations have been established across the country to ensure that everyone works together effectively to reduce crime and disorder. Those partnerships benefit from significant investment under a three-year crime reduction programme, including the biggest ever expansion of closed circuit television, to help drive crime down locally. New antisocial behaviour orders have removed a climate of fear and intimidation from many neighbourhoods, while more than 1,100 successful prosecutions have taken place for new offences of racial violence and racial harassment.

The system for community punishments is being reformed to ensure better enforcement by a new national probation service. The Prison Service is investing large sums in drug prevention, accredited offending behaviour programmes, better education and training, and an extra 2,660 prison places.

The strategy is bearing fruit. Against demographic projections that crime would rise between 1997 and the end of 1999, the British crime survey shows that overall crime fell by 10 per cent. in that period, with reductions

26 Feb 2001 : Column 584

of 4 per cent. for violent crime, 15 per cent. for vehicle crime and 21 per cent. for domestic burglary. Since 1997, overall recorded crime has fallen 7 per cent. to a total of about 5.2 million offences, with reductions of 28 per cent. for domestic burglary and 20 per cent. for vehicle crime.

I pay tribute to the efforts, commitment and dedication of the police, all the others who work in the criminal justice system agencies, and the hundreds of thousands of volunteers in victim support, neighbourhood watch and many other local organisations for that achievement.

The recent improvements have, however, taken place in the context of more fundamental and deep-seated problems. Over the past 20 years, the performance of the criminal justice system has kept pace neither with long-term trends in crime nor with new types of crime. Too few offences are detected and prosecuted successfully. Between 1980 and 1995 the number of recorded offences doubled, but the number of convictions in respect of those offences fell by a third. To put it mildly, the system has not been as successful as it should have been in catching, prosecuting and punishing criminals.

Cases still take too long, and sentencing is too variable, and insufficiently focused on reducing reoffending. Within two years of starting a community sentence or finishing a prison sentence, more than half of all offenders will be back in court to be convicted and sentenced for further offences. The legacy of those failures is that crime in this country is still too high, in comparison not only with the levels here 20 years ago but with those of many other western countries. Furthermore, the British crime survey showed that although violent crime has fallen by 4 per cent., there are worrying increases in street crime, including robbery.

In the Command Paper, the Government have set out to tackle the longer-term problems. Alongside the continuing improvements put in place over the past four years, the paper describes our further strategy for reducing crime and reforming the criminal justice system. It describes a demanding programme for delivering the targets set out in the criminal justice service public service agreement, and identifies a wide range of new areas in which we are seeking improvements.

Those improvements are focused on four key themes. The first is crime prevention, and dealing with the factors that appear to increase the chances of a person's getting into crime in the first place. The second is catching and convicting more offenders--especially persistent offenders--to close the justice gap between crimes reported to the police and those resulting in a criminal being brought to justice. The third theme is ensuring that punishments fit the criminal as well as the crime, thus reducing reoffending and crime itself. The fourth is radically improving treatment for victims, to ensure that their need for information, support and advice is better met at every stage of the criminal justice process.

Research that we have undertaken shows that a small group of hard-core, highly persistent offenders--fluid, but probably no more than 100,000 strong at any given time--may be responsible for about half of all crime. Our strategy, involving both investment and reform, is intended to help catch and convict more of those serious and persistent offenders, and to do so more often.

The police will have the means to give priority to those serious and persistent offenders. The entire active criminal population will be on the DNA database by 2004.

26 Feb 2001 : Column 585

The national intelligence model will be adopted by every police force to establish a consistent basis for gathering, sharing and using intelligence. In addition to previously announced measures to increase the number of police officers to the highest-ever level by March 2003, the document details proposals to improve detective capability, leadership and the management of senior careers in the police service, and to enhance the prospects of those who make a career of being a front-line constable.

As a whole, the criminal justice system will receive the biggest injection of new resources in 20 years. This will deliver more staff, more capacity, and the modernisation of information technology systems for all those working in the criminal justice agencies. A 23 per cent. real terms rise in funding for 2001-02 will enable the Crown Prosecution Service to recruit scores of extra prosecutors, remedying the underfunding that has bedevilled the service ever since it was established.

With that investment and reform must come results. There will be a criminal justice system-wide target for 2004 to increase by 100,000 the number of recorded crimes ending in an offender being brought to justice.

The document sets out why we also want to consider fully and carefully the scope for improving court organisation and procedures and the rules of evidence, and codifying and clarifying the criminal law itself. In December 1999, we asked Sir Robin Auld, a Lord Justice of Appeal, to conduct a comprehensive and independent review of the criminal courts. The Government will take final decisions after carefully considering his recommendations.

To achieve our broad goal of punishment that fits the criminal as well as the crime, we aim radically to reform the present sentencing structure, focusing on preventing reoffending as well as on punishment, and ensuring that persistent offending leads to an increased severity of punishment. There will be a new approach to community punishments and better enforcement.

From April this year, the new national probation service will have its funding increased by more than a fifth in real terms over the next three years, to deliver a 5 per cent. reduction in reoffending. There will for the first time be proper supervision of short-sentence prisoners after their release, and a new emphasis on sentence management and review. In making final decisions in this area, we shall take full account of the review of the sentencing framework under Mr. John Halliday, a senior Home Office official.

There will be a range of new measures to deal with young offenders, including a commitment that every young offender in custody will get a minimum of 30 hours a week of education, training or similar development work.

Many of the 100,000 most persistent offenders are hard drug users. We must better target our efforts to break the link between drugs and crime. New measures include the introduction nationally of drug treatment and testing orders. There will be more referrals into treatment at the point of arrest, and drug testing at the point of charge, to ensure that we identify drug misuse problems and intervene much earlier. Over the next three years, spending on drug treatment is due to rise by 70 per cent., to more than £400 million.

26 Feb 2001 : Column 586

There will also be a lot more money to help to educate prisoners and ensure that they are able to get work on release.

Finally, I would like to speak about victims and witnesses. Support for victims in the United Kingdom is already high by international standards--I am delighted during my period as Home Secretary to have doubled the amount of financial support available to victim support--and we have the most generous criminal injuries compensation scheme in the world, but the Government are determined to do still more to deliver a better deal for victims and witnesses.

Tomorrow, I will publish a consultation paper that will include details of our proposals for a new charter of victims' rights and a victims' ombudsman. That will include a commitment to ensure that victims are kept properly informed throughout the progress of their case.

We want the criminal justice system and everyone working within it to focus on two clear and linked outcomes: the delivery of justice and the reduction of crime. That is the goal of the programme that I have set out today. I commend the Command Paper to the House.

Next Section

IndexHome Page