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5 July 2024
Wider justice system

To truly fix a criminal justice system that is on its knees, we urge the government to fundamentally review the whole system and back it up with proper and sustained investment.

The text reads: media statement

The Magistrates’ Association has responded to the appointment of a new government by urging it to make criminal and family justice a priority, carry out a fundamental review of the criminal justice system and boost investment in all parts of it.

Tom Franklin, the Chief Executive of the Magistrates’ Association, said:

“The new Lord – or Lady – Chancellor faces huge challenges. Our criminal justice system is in its worst state in living memory. Courts are crumbling, understaffed and overwhelmed with cases; probation services are struggling to cope; and prisons are bursting at their seams.

“There is a long list of pressing tasks, but knee-jerk decisions made in reaction to the latest criminal justice crisis – whether that is a shortage of police officers, or our prisons being full – won’t be effective without also building capacity in other parts of the system, such as the courts, the judiciary and probation services – and will only make things worse. The recent operational measure to reduce the flow of cases into magistrates’ courts, Operation Early Dawn, is a perfect example of this.

“There are no quick fixes – what is needed is a long-term plan. To truly fix a criminal justice system that is on its knees, we urge the government to fundamentally review the whole system – policing, courts, probation, prisons, post-prison support, and rehabilitation services – bring together all the key organisations involved, and back it up with proper and sustained investment.

“We must also have a grown-up discussion about sentencing. It is generally recognised that short custodial sentences are not very effective in promoting rehabilitation. We are concerned that plans to boost the capacity of the police will result in higher arrest rates – but without the resources needed to deal with them speedily, this will just increase bottlenecks, delays and backlogs.

“The government should also put family court reform on the agenda.

“We look forward to working with the new government to improve the system for victims, witnesses and defendants.”

Six areas for improvement the Magistrates’ Association has identified:

  1. Taking a whole-system approach to setting the right balance of resources between different parts of the criminal and family justice systems
  2. Addressing staffing shortages across the criminal and family justice systems, from court staff to probation officers to prison staff
  3. Investing in a wider range of high-quality community sentencing options across England and Wales that magistrates can have confidence in as alternatives to short custodial sentences
  4. Reviewing the potential for magistrates’ courts to take on greater work, to help reduce backlogs of the most serious cases in the crown court
  5. Addressing the dire physical state of court buildings, many of which are in a state of dilapidation
  6. Improving the openness of the justice system, including more published performance data and reforms to the Single Justice Procedure