A former London deputy mayor for policing has branded courts a ‘casino’, blaming the lack of ‘swift and certain justice’ as a key reason for the increasing prison population.
Hours after justice secretary Liz Truss announced plans to reform prisons to cut reoffending, North West Hampshire MP Kit Malthouse (pictured) said the Ministry of Justice needs to turn its attention to the court system.
Malthouse told a Conservative party conference fringe event on prisons that the court system was a ‘disaster’.
He said: ‘It has become a casino. People game the system. We know, particularly at the lower end, people don’t plead guilty because they know witnesses may not show up – it’s worth taking their chances, they might get this magistrate [or] this judge, they’re not quite sure what they are going to get.’
Recalling the start of his four-year stint as the deputy mayor for policing in 2008, Malthouse said it became apparent he was ‘living in a Kafkaesque world where it seemed to be all the bits of the criminal justice system, rather than working together, we are working against each other in many instances.
‘That, to me, has been the main cause in the increase in the prison population, alongside the enormous success of the police’.
Police have been getting better at catching criminals, Malthouse said, noting that most forces have nearly a 100% clear-up rate on murder.
‘But that was allied to an almost total failure of the courts to deter, a complete failure of the system to rehabilitate, to stop people reoffending. A lack of imagination or willingness in the system to innovate and think differently about the way things should be done’, he said.
In the absence of any idea that the justice system is ‘swift and certain’, Malthouse pointed to lessons being learned in the US, ‘that if your court system is going to deter, if people are going to be worried about what’s going to happen to them if they get caught, the court system needs to be swift and certain, they need to know what they’re going to get if they are caught and if they are convicted’.
Highlighting the need to explore more use of technology, Malthouse recalled a two-year battle to get sobriety tags put on to the statute book.
‘It was fought, and fought, and fought by the coalition government. In the end we beat them in the House of Lords who saw the sense of it,’ he said.
‘We ran a pilot in Croydon [which was] enormously successful. And one of the first acts that [former justice secretary] Michael Gove took was to license its use across the whole country.’