Martin Partington: Spotlight on the Justice System

Keeping the English Legal System under review

Posts Tagged ‘Probation

Launch of the Unified Probation Service

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One experiment in use of the private sector to deliver important public services came to an end on 28 June 2021 with the Government’s announcement of its Unified Probation Service.

This undoes a reform introduced less than a decade ago by the then Lord Chancellor, Chris Grayling, who decided that while a public sector probation service would be retained for looking after the most serious offenders, private and charitable organisations would be responsible for looking after other offenders.

The specific aims of the Grayling reforms were to reduce the amount of re-offending and promote rehabilitation of offenders. These aims were sensible. Most would argue in favour of them.

What was heavily criticised from the outset by many with an interest in the criminal justice system was that the policy would be delivered primarily by private organisations opearting under contracts with Government. In the event, the critics were proved right. Operation of the contracts did not work in practice. It neither cut costs nor reduced reoffending.

The Government announced some time ago that contracts with private providers would be ended early. The latest announcement marks the completion of the process. The new service will continue to engage with some third sector/charitable organisations. But the new service in effect re-creates the National Probation Service which existed before the Grayling changes were made.

Getting probation right is always a challenge for Government. Some who think that the principal role of the criminal justice system is to punish may regard probation as soft option. The reality, however, is that it is clearly in the public interest that serious efforts are made to turn around the lives of offenders so that they can play a full part in society. Probation officers are on the front line in the delivery of these objectives. It is right that they should be seen as delivering a key public service.

I commented on the original Grayling proposals in this blog on 13 August 2013.

Details of the Government’s latest announcement are at https://www.gov.uk/government/news/bigger-better-probation-service-to-cut-crime

Written by lwtmp

June 28, 2021 at 10:44 am

Covid 19 and the English Legal System (5): Parliamentary inquiries (revised)

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Those interested in how key actors in the legal world are trying to cope with the implications for the English Legal System of  Covid-19 might care to follow the work – currently on-going – of two  Parliamentary Select Committees.

The  House of Commons Justice Committee launched an inquiry into Coronavirus (COVID-19) on 31 March 2020. It is examining the impact on prisons, the probation service and the court systems. They have held three evidence gathering sessions in which they heard from a number of key witnesses, including the Lord Chief Justice, the Minister of State, key officials from Prisons and Probation, the Chair of the Magistrates Association. It is likely that the Committee will publish a relatively short report in the course of the next few weeks.

At the same time on 13 May 2020, the House of Lords Constitution Committee opened an inquiry into the Constitutional implications of Covid 19. This will be a more wide-ranging inquiry than that being held by the Commons Justice Committee.

The announcement of the inquiry states:

The Covid-19 pandemic and the Government’s measures to respond to it have significant constitutional implications, as well as health, social and economic ones. These include:

  • The ability of Parliament to hold the Government to account
  • Scrutiny of emergency powers
  • The operation of the courts

The Constitution Committee will consider these issues and other related matters as part of an umbrella inquiry into the constitutional implications of Covid-19. The Committee will initially explore questions such as:

  • What can Parliament do to maximise its scrutiny of the emergency regulations and to hold the Government to account effectively during lockdown? How are adjustments to procedures and processes working in the House of Lords?
  • What are the consequences for different ways of Parliament working on effectiveness, accessibility, fairness and transparency?
  • What emergency powers has the Government sought during the pandemic and what powers has it used and how?
  • What lessons are there for future uses of emergency powers, their safeguards and the processes for scrutinising them?
  • How has the Government used both law and guidance to implement the lockdown and what have been the consequences of its approach? How has this varied across the constituent parts of the United Kingdom?
  • What liberties has Parliament loaned the Government during lockdown? What are the processes for reviewing and returning them? Are the sunset provisions in the Acts and regulations sufficient?
  • How is the court system operating during the pandemic? What has been the impact of virtual proceedings on access to justice, participation in proceedings, transparency and media reporting?
  • How will the justice system manage the increasing backlog of criminal cases? Is it appropriate to rethink the jury system during the pandemic, and beyond, and if so how?

 

To date, the Committee has issued a call for evidence and has had a number of hearings at which oral evidence has been presented. Among the witnesses who have already given evidence is the ‘guru’ of the use of IT in the delivery of legal services, Prof Richard Susskind and the leading researcher on the justice system, Prof Dame Hazel Genn.

I suspect this report will take somewhat longer to appear than that of the Commons Committee.

In addition to these two inquiries which cover many aspects of the working of the legal and justice systems, in mid-May 2020, the House of Commons Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee also launched an inquiry: Responding to Covid-19 and the Coronavirus Act 2020. The aim of this inquiry is set out as follows:

The Coronavirus Act 2020 was emergency legislation passed by Parliament on 25 March, to provide the Government with the powers it wanted to tackle the Covid-19 pandemic in the UK.

Under section 98 of the Act 2020, every six months there is “parliamentary review” which means that the Government must, so far as is practicable, make arrangements for the following motion to be debated and voted on: “That the temporary provisions of the Coronavirus Act 2020 should not yet expire.”

PACAC is launching an inquiry to scrutinise the constitutional and public administration aspects of the Act, with the goal of supporting and informing that debate.

It has issued a call for evidence but has not to date arranged for any meetings or hearings.

For links to all these inquiries see:

The Justice inquiry is at https://committees.parliament.uk/work/254/coronavirus-covid19-the-impact-on-prison-probation-and-court-systems/

The House of Lords Constitution Committee is at https://committees.parliament.uk/work/298/constitutional-implications-of-covid19/

The evidence of Profs Susskind and Genn is at https://www.parliamentlive.tv/Event/Index/0f0810d1-9489-4506-9108-139f6d4f221e

The PACAC inquiry is at https://committees.parliament.uk/work/310/responding-to-covid19-and-the-coronavirus-act-2020/

All evidence sessions held by Parliamentary Committees can be accessed at https://parliamentlive.tv/Commons.

National Probation Service senior appointments: update

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In August 2013, I noted that Mike Maiden had been appointed as the Director of the new Probation Service. He has withdrawn from the post for personal reasons. The Government has just announced that, in his place, Colin Allars, the current director of probation within the National Offender Management Service (NOMS), has been chosen to take up the new role. Sarah Payne’s appointment as director of the NPS in Wales is unaffected.

The Government announcement states: “the two will work together to lead the new service. It is due to launch in April 2014 and tasked with protecting the public from 30,000 of the most dangerous offenders in England and Wales each year…”

For more detail see https://www.gov.uk/government/news/director-of-new-national-probation-service-announced

Written by lwtmp

October 17, 2013 at 7:47 am