Overlooked defence lawyers are central to criminal justice reform but will get no funding to help them engage in digital working, the justice minister said yesterday as he outlined plans to overhaul a system beset by ‘unforgivable’ delays.
Damian Green (pictured) told an event organised by the thinktank Reform that ‘I’m happy to admit we haven't involved these lawyers sufficiently in our reforms, despite their being an integral part of the criminal justice system’.
He said he wants to give the defence an opportunity to offer expertise and input into how the system can be more efficient.
To that end he has invited a group of defence practitioners to work with him over the next couple of months. ‘I want to discuss with them what they can do differently, what we might do to help them and how the whole system can improve,’ he said.
Making greater use of technology is one of the key methods that Green hopes will improve efficiency.
‘Anyone who compares the way the criminal justice system works with any other modern workplace will be immediately struck by the terrible failure to take advantage of all the benefits that technology can bring,’ he said
He said he wants to see a single case file that progresses electronically right through the system from police to court and then prison or probation.
To achieve this, he said, much more work needs to be done with the defence to ensure secure email becomes their primary method of communication with other CJS agencies.
While over half of those with criminal legal aid contracts have secure email accounts, Green said ‘usage is still low’.
Future legal aid contracts, said Green, will require firms to work digitally. ‘The rest of the world went digital years ago. It is time for the criminal justice system to catch up,’ he said.
However, speaking to the Gazette, Green said that government funding will not be available to help defence practitioners update their IT systems to enable them to engage in the new digital system.
‘Secure email costs nothing and any investment they make in IT will pay for itself as using technology will be cheaper,’ he said.
He added: ‘Look at the general public spending arena – we are not looking at new ways to spend public money.’
Remarking on the ‘unforgivable’ delays that ‘too often characterise’ the system, Green said that only 44% of magistrates’ court trials go ahead as planned.
He noted large regional differences between the length of time taken to conclude cases, with burglary taking up to six months, theft three months, sexual assaults 500 days and rape two years.
Among the measures he set out in a wide-ranging speech, building on the government’s white paper last year, was the creation of a new criminal justice board.
Comprising a senior judge, a representative of the newly elected police and crime commissioners, and the chief executive of the new College of Policing, the board will hold its first meeting next week.
Green said of the board: ‘I am determined that it will not be another talking shop or target setting body, but rather will get to grips with the operational barriers and lack of coordination that frustrate progress.’
In the spring, he will publish an action plan, setting out the pace, scope and scale of the reforms.