#038/2010 – ‘Stop the drift’ – and start steering the Criminal Justice System

The criminal justice system is fragmented and bureaucratic, stifling innovation to speed up sluggish processes and raise confidence, HMIC found in a report published today.

The report ‘Stop the Drift’ finds that more needs to be done to explain to the public why some offenders never end up in court. HMIC found that the system would work better if justice agencies stop it growing, improve wasteful processes, and make the most of innovation. But all agencies must pull together.

The system has grown, with 14 pieces of legislation added to the criminal justice process over the last 15 years. It takes around 1,000 steps to deal with a simple domestic burglary. This slows down the process and consumes resources, reducing the number of officers available to help the public. All criminal justice agencies should sign up to a smarter approach, which reduces bureaucracy and duplication.

HMIC found that the number of offenders dealt with outside the courts through cautions, penalty notices, and formal warnings has risen by 135% over five years. Nearly half of the 1.3 million cases solved in 2008/9 were dealt with in this way, although the proportion varies significantly between forces. This has been accompanied by an increased reliance on restorative justice approaches. There are signs that some of these approaches increase victim satisfaction, however the public should be better informed of their effectiveness. This would help eliminate the perceived injustice of different ways of dealing with offenders in different parts of the country.

HMIC found an example of a shoplifter charged by police and sentenced at court just two hours later. But the average is 12 days. Whilst 67% of defendants eventually plead guilty, 41% do so when they get to the trial. This results in huge amounts of unnecessary paperwork and also causes further distress to victims. HMIC found that getting defendants to court quickly, providing good quality information to the prosecutor and firm case management could reduce late guilty pleas, improve victim satisfaction and save cost, in the region of £40m a year.

Some forces take innovative approaches, with police and prosecutors pooling resources in London to create one process that reduces duplication, potentially saving £16m over 10 years. But innovation is challenging. No data exists for all agencies to refer to that shows the cost benefit of working collaboratively, and the fragmented system means that no single leader can authorise and commit to change. The National Operations Board chaired by the Ministry of Justice should rationalise bureaucracy quickly.

Calling for better, smarter approaches, Dru Sharpling, H.M Inspector of Constabulary, said:

“The criminal justice system has grown in a fragmented and bureaucratic way, slowing down the process, creating waste and stifling innovation.

“All justice agencies involved are having their budgets cut over the next four years. There will not be enough capacity in the system to sustain the service without reform.

“There is no “silver bullet” that will deal with these problems overnight, but our report sets out some opportunities to improve justice while reducing cost and bureaucracy. I do not underestimate the scale of the challenge involved while there are no cost/benefit data that all agencies can use and no single leader can authorise and deliver change.

“To help eliminate any sense of injustice about different treatments in different places, and to ensure legitimacy in communities, police leaders need to explain to the public which offenders won’t go to court.

“For those who do need to go to court, police must get them there quickly, preferably within 24 hours of charge or arrest. And they must make sure that the prosecutor gets the information they need – and no more.

“But it is not all down to the police alone. The national interagency Operations Board, which co-ordinates activity across the criminal justice system, must act swiftly to stop the system from deteriorating.

“We have seen in London innovative approaches to joint working that have the potential to save money and should be encouraged. A national programme to pool police and CPS administrations could realise £70m.

“There has been much talk about this in the past – and, it has to be said, many reports. The budget cuts create an imperative to tackle this now. It is time to show collective leadership across the CJS to reform what no doubt looks to the public like a fragmented and bureaucratic system.”


Notes to editors

  1. The report, “Stop the Drift: A focus on 21st century criminal justice”, is available on the HMIC website from 00.01, 3rd November, 2010.
  2. HMIC mapped the criminal justice process from end-to-end (Annex A) and tested that process in forces across the country.
  3. Data in this report was drawn from the Home Office, the Ministry of Justice and the Crown Prosecution Service. HMIC point out the problems caused by agencies collecting data in different ways. This is a challenge identified in the report.
  4. There are three Government departments concerned with criminal justice: the Home Office, the Ministry of Justice and the Attorney General’s Office. In addition to voluntary sector contributors, such as Victim Support and the Witness Service, at least eight organisations are involved in managing work in and arising from the CJS: Police, Courts, Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), Probation, Prisons, Youth Justice Board for England and Wales, Legal Services Commission (including publicly funded defence practitioners), Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority.
  5. HMIC looked at a case study in London where MPS and CPS staff are co-located and cases are dealt with at a police station linked to a court via a TV – a ‘virtual court’. The learning from this venture exposed all the challenges that the CJS faces across the country: there is no cost/benefit data which all agencies can use; and no single leader can authorise and deliver change. Nonetheless, £16 million pounds of cashable savings over a 10-year period have been identified.
  6. Her Majesty’s Inspector for London, Bernard Hogan-Howe, conducted the inspection of the London case study in this report.
  7. To bid for an interview with Dru Sharpling, Her Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary, please contact the HMIC press office on 020 7802 1824 or email HMICPressOffice@homeoffice.gsi.gov.uk (e-mail address).
  8. HMIC is an independent inspectorate, inspecting policing in the public interest and rigorously examines the effectiveness of police forces and authorities to tackle crime and terrorism, improve criminal justice and raise confidence. Further information about HMIC can be found on the website www.hmic.gov.uk.