Holiday Inn, Bristol
Wednesday 22nd September 2003
The Legal Secretariat to the Law Officers
Attorney General’s Chambers
9 Buckingham Gate
Tel: 020 7271 2400
I’m very pleased to have the opportunity to speak to you at this conference about the important question of public satisfaction and confidence in the CJS.
For those of you who don’t know about the role of the Solicitor General, I’m deputy to the Attorney General, Peter Goldsmith, and as Law Officers we superintend the CPS and therefore are one of the three CJS ministers along with the Home Office and the Department for Constitutional Affairs.
Anyway, today’s meeting gives me the chance to
· Say why public confidence matters
· Touch on some of the steps which are already making a difference and
· Thank you for the work that you’ve already done and will do in the future
And also to meet and get to know those of you who I haven’t met before and hear your questions and comments.
Why public confidence matters.
Of course we all want the public to have confidence in the CJS and it’s easy to work out why but its still worth spelling it out
I would offer 6 reasons – no doubt you’ll be able to add to the list.
· Because we don’t want people to be fearful of crime – and that the CJS is not there for them when they need it.
· And we don’t want people to feel that if they’ve been the victim of crime no-one will be brought to justice and they will just seethe with resentment and feel that they don’t count.
· And we want everyone to have confidence in all their public services. The CJS is a public service – and the public are paying for it so they should have confidence in it.
· And we want the CJS to work – and it won’t work if people don’t have confidence in it. They have to have confidence to report an offence – that they’ve witnessed or been a victim of. The CJS doesn’t work if the public don’t come forward and report, and if they aren’t prepared to come to court and give evidence if necessary.
· And it is public confidence in the CJS which gives it its legitimacy. Without the support and confidence of the public a vital element of the CJS is missing.
· And we need the public to have confidence in the CJS so that they are prepared to come forward and work in it and so that you can be rightfully proud of what you do.
You might feel that public confidence is out of your hands – one bad headline in the Tabloids – which is nothing to do with Bristol or anywhere near it – yet it can undermine confidence. But its not true that there’s nothing that can be done to justify and improve public confidence.
Though it is true, I believe, that public confidence lags behind a public service. It’s the same with all public services. We all know of examples where even though a school has improved dramatically, it still has a bad public reputation. And I know pensioners in my area who though they now have fantastic modern facilities at Kings College Hospital outpatients – still bear the imprint on their mind of the awful old waiting hall where you thought you’d have to wait so long you’d be dead before your name was called out.
So public confidence doesn’t change overnight, you have to work at it. But as things change and as you tell people what you’re doing, it can and will improve.
What affects public confidence?
Well of course it’s a whole number of things.
· First and foremost it’s about people’s experience. A woman who’s been assaulted by her husband and finally reports the offence, who finds that the police are sympathetic and helpful – and make her feel safe – who finds prosecutors handle the case with the utmost professionalism and ensure that she can give her evidence behind a screen so she doesn’t have to look him in the eye – and witness service who meet her and tell her what’s going on and that they are there for her and when she then gets a letter from the CPS telling her what the sentence was. She’ll be confident – and will tell her friends.
The basic elements of what affects public confidence are obvious. It’s horrible to be the victim of a crime – its even worse to have to go to court to be called a liar. People need support to be able to go through that. So it’s right as a matter of principle that we really look after victims – but it’s also right as it builds public confidence more generally.
And conversely – a bad experience – a victim who doesn’t understand why the charge is dropped, or a guilty plea to a lesser charge accepted, or who doesn’t understand why the case has been adjourned or who has to wait hours in court without knowing why – will feed into the statistics which show too many vitims who say they’d never report a crime again.
· Secondly, it about the basics of a system which is running smoothly, where people are working together and getting results. I’m very encourged to see the development of the local criminal justice boards – formalising what were already good relations between the agencies in some areas – and creating good relations in others where hitherto people who just got on with the job in their own agency but not worked together.
That’s why a) shortening the time which it takes to bring a young offender to justice b) cutting the number of ineffective trials c) bearing down on discharged committals and bringing more offenders to justice, will feed through to increased public confidence
· Thirdly, it is vital to building and sustaining confidence that we have enough police and prosecutors and modern courts. More police and more prosecutors of course makes a difference. And many of the improvements for victims and witnesses – not to mention jurors and lawyers – depend on the rolling programme of physical improvement in the courts.
· And the new joined up CJS IT will help too. I’m sure that it will help your confidence in the system when you can all securly e-mail each other and exchange documents.
· Your confidence – in yourself, your work and the system as a whole - is crucial to public confidence.
People will not feel more confident in the CJS if they feel if it’s not fair. And there is a perception among black and ethnic minority communities particularly that the system is not fair to them in the way that it should be. That a crime against them will not be taken so seriously, that the won’t get a fair deal if they’re a defendant.
I think progress has been made – there’s been much discussion within the CJS and between the CJS and the black community particularly since the death of Stephen Lawrence. But we’ll never be able fully to banish the perception of unfairness in the CJS unless it mirrors the community it serves.
So we need to have more police from the ethnic minorities. We must ensure that the many black lawyers in the CPS move into senior positions. And we need more black judges and magistrates.
That’s why I’m very pleased with the CPS law scholarship programme which will sponsor admin and clerical staff who want to qualify as lawyers. That is right in terms of staff development – but it will also enable many of our black and ethnic minority clerical staff to become lawyers and ultimately, I hope, judges.
· The final point I’d like to make about building public confidence is about community engagement. People know very little about how the CJS works – I’ve seen that in my own constituency. Community organisations, special interest groups, tenants and residents associations are, I have found, really keen to hear about your work and if they know you, to give you benefit of the doubt before they jump to the conclusion that a mistake has been made. So I know that you are all very busy – but engaging with groups in your local community – in the way that the police routinely do – is important for all in the CJS.
So thank you for all the work you are already doing. Good luck with your future efforts. I hope you have a productive day today and useful discussions.
We aren’t just asking you to work in closer partnership with each other – we’re really doing it ourselves working together as ministers collectively – trying to get past the traditional departmental boundaries. And partnership for me is no hardhsip when it means working with my good friend and colleagues Pat Scotland and Chris Leslie – and first I’ll hand you over to Pat.