Proposals have been announced which could lead to the closure of 103 magistrates courts, about one third of the total. This is the first move in a new policy which Criminal Justice Minister Nick Herbert described as creating a system shaped by the principles of freedom, fairness and responsibility.
The most important principle in the policy is iindividual and social responsibility and the government will insist that offenders pay back to society and victims by working in the community and earning their release from prison. This should be matched by a resurgence in community activism which will encourage communities to share responsibility for making their neighbourhoods safer.
In the proposals there will be key roles for local authorities, registered social landlords, social services and health services and through better co-ordination they will address problem behaviour more effectively.
The conventional methods of combating crime, policing and punishment, will always be necessary, but on their own they are not enough. There is a need to repair the links in the chain of justice between the police, courts, prisons and probation services. The aim is to bring to an end to the revolving door of re-offending.
Innovations will include the police sharing community premises, or a shop front on the local parade. Alternatives to traditional courts will be trialed to give magistrates the opportunity to delivery summary justice quickly.
A Police Reform and Social Responsibility bill will be introduced in this session of Parliament. Later this year proposals will be published to reform sentencing and the way offenders are managed.