§ The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. David Blunkett)
Today the Government will publish Command Paper 6288, entitled "Cutting Crime—Delivering Justice: Strategic Plan for Criminal Justice 2004—08". Copies of the paper have been placed in the Libraries of the House.
The strategic plan for criminal justice sets out the Government's vision for the criminal justice system (CJS) and how we aim to achieve it, combining forces across the Home Office, the Department for Constitutional Affairs and the Law Officers' Departments.
The plan focuses on how we will provide a better service to victims and witnesses of crime, increase the number of offences brought to justice, tackle offenders who fail to comply with court dates, fines and sentences and improve the way criminal justice agencies work together. This is closely linked to our overall approach to preventing crime and reducing reoffending, which is set out in a parallel document, the Home Office strategic plan. I will announce the details of that plan to the House in an oral statement later today.
The Government are committed to ongoing reform of the criminal justice system. The CJS strategic plan explains how much has already been achieved. Huge steps have been made to establish joint working across the CJS—largely through the success of the 42 Local Criminal Justice Boards across England and Wales and the strong leadership of the National Criminal Justice Board. We know these changes are working because we are seeing improvements on the ground. Overall, crime is down by 25 per cent. since 1997. 7 per cent. more offences have been brought to justice in the last two years. The number of crown court trials that fail to go ahead on the day scheduled has fallen by 25 per cent. The number of assets recovered in the last three years has doubled. Public confidence in criminal justice was falling sharply: we have turned this around.
We have achieved a great deal, but there are still some real issues to tackle. The CJS Strategic plan outlines our key objectives for reform, structured around a vision of the delivery of criminal justice in 2008. To achieve this vision, we need to improve the way agencies work together to support and protect victims and witnesses; we need to further increase the number of offenders brought to justice; we need to tackle offenders who fail to comply with court dates, fines and sentences; and we need to continue progress towards fully joined-up working, including providing the CJS with the information technology it needs to work effectively.
The goal of these reforms is to deliver a service that responds better to the needs of the communities it is there to serve.
Improved service for victims and witnesses is at the heart of this. By the end of next year, in all cases where someone is charged with an offence, the victims and witnesses will be offered support by a witness care unit, to make it more likely that they attend court and give evidence. Over the period, Crown court buildings will have separate waiting facilities for prosecution and defence victims and witnesses. The victims fund, which 4WS will pay for better support services for victims, will also be boosted by a surcharge on all criminals who are convicted.
The public also need to know that the offenders will be brought to book and respect for the law will be maintained. The CIS strategic plan sets out how the prosecution will take responsibility for charging, cooperating earlier with the police to identify the correct charge for the offence. It also describes innovative measures to crack down on those who fail to turn up at court or comply with fines and community penalties. Those who breach bail can now expect action to be taken straightaway, and to be punished for this whatever the decision on the original case. We are working hard to make sure that every offender who defaults on their fine is pursued and made to pay it. With our measures on asset recovery it will be the criminal who pays not the community. Our approach includes: increased powers for frontline enforcement staff including search and entry, and new measures and sanctions from the Courts Act 2003 to help recoup fines, including attachment of earnings and deduction of state benefits, and car clamping. And by rolling out direct access to the police national computer (PNC) for all magistrates courts by autumn 2004, we will enable police officers to identify whether an offender is on the run from court or defaulting on a fine or community sentence.
We will also pilot the community justice centre concept in North Liverpool, bringing new approaches to tackle the low level crime and antisocial behaviour which can make communal life miserable; and to reach offenders and their problems before they progress to serious crime. Court sentences will combine punishment with support to help offenders kick their crime habit. The community will be involved in helping to steer people away from crime.
To achieve all these goals we need to work in close partnership across the justice system. The development of the National Criminal Justice Board and Local Criminal Justice Boards has made great strides in delivering a more seamless service and better outcomes. To build on this, we are announcing today that, in future, joint working across the CJS will be further strengthened by the establishment of the Office for Criminal Justice Reform on a cross departmental basis. This implements the recommendations of a recent review of CJS capacity published in a parallel document "Criminal Justice Reform: Working Together". This means that the teams driving progress on shared CJS targets will in future report on an equal basis to the Home Office, Department for Constitutional Affairs and Law Officers' Departments. Establishing the Office for Criminal Justice Reform as a shared resource serving all three Departments builds on the firm foundations of what we have achieved, and is a powerful symbol of our resolve to work together effectively to deliver better services for the public.