Martin Partington: Spotlight on the Justice System

Keeping the English Legal System under review

Posts Tagged ‘recorded crime

Covid-19 and the English Legal System (15) – Criminal Justice in existential crisis?

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On Friday 30 October 2020 a research consultancy, Crest, published a report Impact and legacy of Covid-19 on the CJS: Modelling overview. Using existing data to model future developments, the report set out what it regarded as the possible impact of Covid-19 on the Criminal Justice System.

The rather sober title of the report was not matched by the press release Crest drafted to draw attention to its study. This was headed “A perfect storm: why the criminal justice system is facing an existential crisis”. This apocalytic vision certainly caught the eye of some journalists – which is of course the reason why I am now writing about it now.

And the report is a really important one, which underscores the urgent need for the Government to get on with the appointment and work of the promised Royal Commission on the Criminal Justice system. (See https://martinpartington.com/2020/07/13/royal-commission-on-the-criminal-justice-system-details-awaited/)

The report starts by reminding readers that, even before Covid-19, the CJS was facing a number of long-standing problems: decreasing charge rates, worsening court timeliness and an estimated backlog in the courts of c.104K
cases, prisons and probation operating at full capacity. Covid-19 has added to those pressures. The report also predicts a future of increased pressure, the consequence of the likely rise in long term unemployment due to the economic impact of Covid, leading to more crime, and the 20,000 increase in police officer numbers, leading to more detection and the need to process more people through the system.

The research team’s modelling suggests, that without any action, the Crown Court backlog is projected to increase from c.45.5K in 2019 in to c.195.5K (x4) in 2024. and the magistrates’ court backlog is projected to increase from c.58.6K in 2019 to 580.3K (x10) in 2024.

Current responses by Government – e.g. making more courts covid-safe and opening Nightingale Courts in a number of town – just do not cut the mustard, in Crest’s view. Much more dramatic action is needed.

The principal criticism contained in the report is that there is currently no ‘whole-system’ view of the challenges facing the CJS. Different parts of the system work in isolation from other parts.

For example: the 20K police uplift will lead to a rise in pressure on the court backlogs; if the courts increase their outflow in sentenced cases, there will be a rise in pressure on prisons and probation.

Furthermore, assuming equilibrium is achieved in courts, suspended sentence orders are projected to increase by 24%, post-release supervision caseload will increase by 30% and community sentence orders are projected to increase by 14% by 2024. This will put extreme pressure on a probation service which was already underperforming.

There is, in the report’s view, inadequate recognition within Government of the interdependencies of each part of the criminal justice system.

The Crest report states that

“to bring the backlog back to pre-Covid levels will require a change in more than just capacity.
Options include:
● increasing the speed with which cases are dealt with: e.g. increasing the efficiency of listing, decreasing victim attrition, decreasing cracked trials etc.
● decreasing the amount of cases entering the court system by increasing effective out of court disposals
● decreasing the amount of police recorded crime originally entering the CJS through effective crime prevention programmes.”

I think some would argue that this list of options is not an original one. All these ideas have been discussed within the CJS, and achieving the outcomes suggested in the report is not easy. But what this report has very effectively done is highlight precisely the challenges that the now increasingly delayed Royal Commission must address. It should be a matter of urgency for the Government to get the Commission up and running.

The Crest Report is available at https://www.crestadvisory.com/post/covid-19-and-the-criminal-justice-system

Reliability of statistics on crime

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At the beginning of 2014, I noted here there was growing public concern about the reliability of statistics on crime, in particular the statistics on recorded crime which comes from individual police forces. In January, the UK Statistics Authority published a report which concluded that: ‘the Authority has removed the National Statistics designation from statistics based on recorded crime data [i.e. data from individual police forces and the National Fraud Office to the Home Office] until such time that Office for National Statistics, with the Home Office, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary or other appropriate bodies, is able to demonstrate that the quality of the underlying data, and the robustness of the ongoing audit and quality assurance procedures, are sufficient to support its production of statistics based on recorded crime data to a level of quality that meets users’ needs.’

At the same time, the Statistics Authority confirmed that crime statistics which are based on sources other than recorded crime data are not included in this down-grading.

The issue was the subject of a special inquiry by the Public Administration Select Committee of the Housing of Commons (see this blog Jan 2014). In April 2014 it issued a very critical report. It said, in summary:

  • There is strong evidence that the police under-record crime, particularly sexual crimes such as rape in many police areas. This is due to “lax compliance with the agreed national standard of victim-focussed crime recording.”
  • As a result of PASC’s inquiry, the UK Statistics Authority has already stripped Police Recorded Crime data of the quality kite mark, “National Statistics”.
  • The Home Office, the Office of National Statistics and the UK Statistics Authority have all been “far too passive”.
  • Numerical targets drive perverse incentives to mis-record crime.
  • Associated “attitudes and behaviour… have become ingrained, including within senior police leadership” raising “broader concerns about policing values”.
  • This presents officers with “a conflict between achievement of targets and core policing values.”
  • PASC “deprecate the use of targets in the strongest possible terms” and accuses the police of adopting a “flawed leadership model, contrary to the policing Code of Ethics.”

The Select Committee recommended:

  • The Home Office should do more to discourage use of targets.
  • The Home Office must take responsibility and accept accountability for the quality of Police Recorded Crime Statistics.
  • Senior police leaders must emphasise data integrity and accuracy, not targets.
  • They should place new emphasis on values and ethics, especially in the Metropolitan Police.
  • The Home Office should “clarify the route open to police whistleblowers” and Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of the Constabulary (HMIC) should investigate the treatment of key PASC witness police whistleblower PC James Patrick.
  • PASC recommends that “the Committee on Standards in Public Life conducts a wide-ranging inquiry into the police’s compliance with the new Code of Ethics; in particular the role of leadership in promoting and sustaining these values”.

In July 2014, the Government published a response to the Select Committee’s report, which noted that HMIC was undertaking a review of crime recording practices in each of the 43 police forces, and had already published an interim report (which noted they had serious concerns, particularly about the recording of serious sexual offences). It also noted that the new Code of Ethics, which was in the process of becoming a code of practice for policing, dealt – among many other things – with the recording of data. The Home Office noted that better recorded crime statistics might lead to an increase in the numbers of reported crime, but it was keen to assert that this did not mean that crime was on the rise. Other evidence showed that crime was decreasing – in particular the Crime Survey for England and Wales.

A further response from the UK Statistics Authority was published in September 2014.

There is clearly a great deal of technical work needing to be done to restore confidence in the recorded crime statistics.

For further information, see

Report of the Select Committee at http://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/public-administration-select-committee/news/crime-stats-substantive/

The Government’s response at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/caught-red-handed-why-we-cant-count-on-police-recorded-crime-statistics

The initial report from the UK Statistics Authority at http://www.statisticsauthority.gov.uk/assessment/assessment/assessment-reports/index.html (entry for 15 January 2014).

The response of the UK Statistics Authority to the Select Committee is at http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201415/cmselect/cmpubadm/645/64505.htm

See also the website of the Crime Statistics Advisory Committee at http://www.statisticsauthority.gov.uk/national-statistician/ns-reports–reviews-and-guidance/national-statistician-s-advisory-committees/crime-statistics-advisory-committee.html

 

Written by lwtmp

October 8, 2014 at 11:39 am

Criminal statistics: questions of reliability

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The question of the reliability of criminal statistics is currently the subject of a very important investigation by the Public Administration Committee of the House of Commons. In evidence sessions held before Christmas, evidence was received of how statistics provided by police may be distorted by the practices local police forces adopt for the recording of crime.

The Committee is examining the quality and reliability of police recorded crime data. Issues covered may include:

  • the role of the Crime Statistics Advisory Committee in promoting statistical best practice among producers of crime data;
  • the practical realities of police crime-recording practices and the factors which may lead these to diverge from established national standards;
  • the extent to which the recorded crime data serve as a reliable indicator of national and local crime trends; and
  • whether adequate procedures are in place to promote a culture of data integrity within the police.

Witnesses have already told how the ways in which data are collected may reflect the need to satisfy particular government targets for policing.

The final outcomes and comment from Government will appear later in 2014.

See further http://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/public-administration-select-committee/inquiries/parliament-2010/crime-statistics/

Written by lwtmp

January 1, 2014 at 3:27 pm