Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 30 September 2014

'New focus' on 'swift justice'

Nick Herbert has revealed plans to speed up the administration of justice

Criminals could be dealt with in days or even hours under Government plans to bring in "swift and sure justice", ministers are to reveal.

Court hours will be more flexible, technology will enable police officers to give evidence remotely and video links for defendants and witnesses will become routine, the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) said.

Police will also be given simpler guidance on how to deal with offenders, while magistrates will have the power to check officers' use of cautions and penalty notices following concerns that serious and persistent offenders were escaping justice. The move could see "straightforward" shoplifting cases being resolved in under two weeks, compared with the current five, the White Paper will say.

Under the plans, magistrates will also be given a stronger role in community justice, with single magistrates sitting outside of courts, such as in community centres, "to dispense rapid and effective justice in low-level, uncontested cases". Neighbourhood justice panels will also be brought in to deal with anti-social behaviour and low-level crime, with offenders making amends to victims and repairing any damage done.

Policing and criminal justice minister Nick Herbert will say: "It is a basic principle of justice that it should be delivered without delay, yet straightforward cases that could be dealt with in days or even hours are taking weeks and months. Justice delayed is justice denied, and victims are the biggest losers."

Typically, almost five months pass between an offence taking place and any sentence being handed down, despite the fact most cases do not have to go to trial or are uncontested.

Last summer's riots showed the system can move much faster and "swift and sure" justice should be routine, Mr Herbert will say. "With a stronger role for magistrates, greater involvement of communities and the drive of elected Police and Crime Commissioners, we will forge a system that grips offenders at the earliest point to prevent the slide into more serious offending. This new focus on delivering swift and sure justice will support the police, give communities a voice, and reduce crime."

The move comes after Prime Minister David Cameron said in October that the public wanted to see speedy justice and if it was possible in the wake of the riots, then "let's make sure we do it all the time".

Graham Beech, director at the crime reduction charity Nacro, said: "Speedy justice makes it easier to connect the sentence with the crime. But speeding up the process shouldn't be at the expense of proper justice or compromise the crucial need for appropriate sentences." He went on: "We need to ensure that the resources are there to deal with any increased flow of people through the justice system that these proposals might bring. And we don't want a quick fix leading to more people being given ineffective sentences, preventing us from challenging offenders in the community and stopping them reoffending in the future."

Shadow justice secretary Sadiq Khan said: "The public, victims, even defendants themselves are right to expect that those accused of crimes are dealt with quickly and efficiently. But, while more evening and weekend sittings, and more justice handed down at the community level, sounds practical, it won't come cheaply. I hope the Government are going to explain exactly how this is going to be funded. The fear is that these proposals are simply designed to save money. And if this results in the cutting of corners within our justice system, it increases the risk of miscarriages of justice, which will further erode the public's confidence."

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