Damian Green calls on defence lawyers to tackle ‘unforgivable delays’

A new watchdog is to be set up to overhaul a criminal justice system that failed to deliver the service that people ‘expected, wanted or deserved’, said Damian Green this week.

The criminal justice minister promised a new body – the Criminal Justice Board – to draw up a reform programme to improve British justice and to cut down on ‘unforgivable delays that all too often characterise our system’.

‘To the wider public who come into contact with it – as witnesses, defendants or jurors, but most crucially, as victims – this is a system that often does not deliver the level of service they expect, want or deserve,’ Green said.

The new Criminal Justice Board, which will meet for the first time next week, will also feature a policing and crime commissioner representative and Alex Marshall, chief executive of the College of Policing. Green promised the new body would not be ‘another talking shop or target setting body’ but rather would ‘get to grips with the operational barriers and lack of coordination that frustrate progress’.

‘We all know that justice delayed is justice denied,’ Green went on to say. The minister called for cases to be brought to trial more quickly and resolving cases swiftly was ‘absolutely essential for victims and for witnesses’

‘We know that the average time from offence to completion for indictable cases or those which can be tried in the magistrates or Crown Courts is 149 days, and this rises to 177 days for summary motoring cases. That means cases like burglary take almost six months from the time when the offence is committed to when they are completed,’ he said.

‘In 2011 the average time taken to deal with a sexual offender from offence to conviction was nearly 500 days and almost two years for rape cases. In the Magistrates’ Court, only 44% went to trial as planned and most trials didn’t go ahead on the day they were planned to.’

‘If every day only 44 per cent of trains left the stations, or 44 per cent of planned hospital operations took place there would be a national uproar. Yet every day this happens in the Magistrates’ courts.’
Damian Green

John Fassenfelt, chairman of the Magistrates’ Association, took issue with the notion that reforms to cut delays was enough to keep the justice system running. He warned that we would have to do with the equivalent of a cheap Ford Escort for a courts system. ‘I accept the country’s in a dire financial situation and we can’t afford a Rolls-Royce criminal justice system,’ Fassenfelt told the Daily Telegraph.

‘Perhaps now we can only afford a Ford Escort system. However, a Ford Escort runs on petrol and how can you reassure me that your reforms will get in place quickly enough before the petrol runs out.’
John Fassenfelt, chairman of the Magistrates’ Association.

Time to catch up
The minister appeared to reach out to defence lawyers who he said were ‘central to reform of the criminal justice system’. ‘Too often in the past, I’m happy to admit, we haven’t involved these lawyers sufficiently in our reforms, despite their being an integral part of the system.’ ‘We have already begun to engage defence practitioners in diagnosing some of the inefficiencies in the system and, as I develop my strategy and action plan, I want to hear from the defence directly as we look at solutions,’ he said; adding that he had invited a group of defence practitioners to offer their ideas.

Green also said that much more work needed to be done with defence lawyers to ensure secure email became ‘the primary method of communication’ with other agencies. Over half of all contract holders with the Legal Services Commission had secure e-mail accounts but usage was still low, he said. ‘That is why we’re looking at future contracts for criminal legal aid services which will require firms who want them to work digitally. The rest of the world went digital years ago. It is time for the criminal justice system to catch up.’



About Jon Robins

Jon is a journalist and has written about the law and justice for the national papers and specialist press for more than 15 years. Jon is a visiting journalism lecturer at Winchester University, a visiting senior fellow in access to justice at the University of Lincoln and patron of Hackney Community Law Centre. He has won the Bar Council’s legal reporter of the year award twice (2015 and 2005). Jon is editor and co-founder of LegalVoice

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