A couple of weeks ago, a survey of 2,100 people, commissioned by various associations of legal professionals, found that Justice is as important to most people as health and education, but also revealed an alarmingly widespread belief that justice favours the wealthy. As a Chief Constable, whose service is delivered for all ‘without fear or favour’, this made me reflect.
I chair the Local Criminal Justice (CJ) Board for Hampshire, Portsmouth, Southampton and the Isle of Wight. It is not a role which comes with the role of being chief constable, but is a role I am very glad to do as a shared focus on CJ, in which the police have a vital part to play, is crucial in ensuring we meet the needs of all in the criminal justice world…. victims, witnesses and those suspected or accused of crimes. And that the agencies together are trusted to do so…. we need to do it right and be transparent in doing it right.
We are a real mixture of people on the Board – some of us lead organisations which are bounded by the geography of the Board (like the police). Others are local leaders within national organisation (CPS, HM CTS, and Probation Service). Others lead critical and specific agencies, such as the Winchester Prison Governor. Others have great professional and technical skills which rest within their appointment, such as Defence solicitors, or Crown Court Judges. I am really pleased that we have recently been joined by experts and leaders within Public Health and Mental Health – the cross-over and inter-dependencies between health and offending are increasingly widely understood and in focus for action.
So, what do we do? We formally meet quarterly, and spend our time checking on how the whole CJ system is working together, but we work outside of meetings a great deal and have four subgroups who deliver the detailed work. Sometimes we need to move fast in response to national changes, such as the recent issues about disclosure of digital material in preparing cases; or the changes in bail law which fundamentally alters what restrictions can be put on someone who is actively under investigation.
We strive to achieve more together than we can by simply focussing upon our own part of the jigsaw. For example, we know that reported crime has changed – serious sexual offences reported to the police has trebled over the past three years. Each of these is investigated thoroughly. What does that huge change mean for the prosecutors in CPS, for the defence teams who prepare for Court, for Court time and the time of jurors? For the Probation skills needed to work with perpetrators – and, most importantly of all, for the victims and witnesses who entrust us all with their experiences and to do our collective best to deliver justice for them?
Criminal Justice is a crucial part of our society. It punishes, it provides justice for those who have suffered and it prevents others becoming victims by rehabilitating perpetrators of harm. These aims are achieved outside of courts as well as in courts… there are numerous restorative justice approaches and wider resolutions which offer an apology and learning, which are particularly powerful for young people who cause harm and are often welcomed by those who have suffered that harm.
As a Board, we try and keep all the purposes of CJ in careful balance and make sure our collective efforts are pointing in the same direction – to ensure our communities are as safe as they can be. I am looking forward, in a couple of weeks’ time, to spending a few hours with all of these vital partners. What are their professional challenges for the year ahead? How will those impact upon the other partners? What is certain is that nothing stays the same and, as professionals, we are forward-leaning in pooling our collective energies. To deliver fair criminal justice and to be trusted to do so by the wider communities we serve.
Olivia Pinkney, Chief Constable of Hampshire Constabulary