By Joseph Willits
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In a speech at the Police Superintendents Conference in Warwickshire yesterday, Nick Herbert, the Policing and Criminal Justice Minister, pledged radical reforms to "bring justice into the 21st century" and implement justice from within communities themselves.
Herbert's message represented a significant toughening of the Government's message on criminal justice, an area which has come under scrutiny in the recent past. In his address, Herbert laboured a message of "swift justice" and "sure justice, where the consequences of offending are swiftly brought home to the criminal, is effective justice".
Following on from the riots, Herbert stressed how imperative it was to learn from them, and how the justice system was forced to react to unforeseen events. During the disturbances, we saw courtrooms and magistrates working through the night and on weekends, and in future could do so again.
Herbert also talked of "challenging community sentences which are too weak", making prisons places of work, and about "pioneering payment by results in the penal system to break the cycle of re-offending".
With the Government's proposal of "neighbourhood justice", local communities themselves would have significant responsibility in administering justice. Groups of magistrates and volunteers will be able to work with the police, in what Herbert described as a "carefully guarded return of power and responsibility to communities to resolve less serious crimes quickly and rigorously."
This power shift to allowing local communities greater responsibility – and away from the Blair government's favouring of out of court disposals such as fines and penalty notices – is significant, and evidence of Herbert's dedication to tough-minded reform.
Previous delays and inefficiency have often characterised the justice system as a whole, and the need for modernisation is apparent, particularly in terms of technology. Herbert said:
"While the rest of the world embraces electronic technology, the criminal justice system likes to use paper".
Several measures were announced in order to "embrace" technology, and modernise the system. Herbert announced that by April 2012, it was a requirement for the whole system to be digitalised, and that the concept of virtual courtrooms would be explored even further.
Herbert lauded the success of the crime mapping website, www.police.uk, describing it as "a phenomenal success, attracting over 430 million hits since its launch at the beginning of this year". As of May 2012, the site will introduce "justice outcomes", taking it a step further from simply listing the crime, but also adding an update of how it has been resolved. Herbert also stated that the government "will not let bogus claims about the rights of offenders stand in the way of common sense information".
Although Herbert's speech has not yet been widely picked up, it is well placed as the Ministry of Justice begins releasing figures from the recent riots in London, and across much of the UK. Today the government's Police Bill will also receive Royal Assent, with elections for police commissioners set to take place in November 2012. (See Paul's recent ToryDiary, where he asks Should the Party run candidates for election as Police Commissioners? )
You can read the speech in full here.