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Leveson recommends ways to make justice system more efficient

A new review to “streamline” the "inefficient, time consuming and... very expensive" justice system in England has recommended financial penalties for private security firms delivering prisoners to court late and changes to the right to opt for trial by jury.

Lord Justice Leveson, who also conducted the inquiry into phone hacking and journalistic ethics, was asked by the Lord Chief Justice to find ways to improve the efficiency of the justice system. Other recommendations included the greater use of video and conferencing technology across the system, especially for remote hearings in Crown Court, as well as expanding the use of body cameras by police and streamlining the use of other electronically captured evidence.

Renegotiating the contracts of the prisoner escort custody service (Pecs) is one of the more extreme proposals. It covers movements between prisons, police stations and courts.

It is currently supplied by Serco in London and the east of England, while GeoAmey cover the remainder of England and Wales.

There are around 850,000 prisoner movements a year in England and Wales at an average cost of £161.

“The present obligations on contractors to meet a 90% success rate, however, means that one in 10 prisoners may not be ready for court when they ought to be and yet the contractors will still be delivering to contract,” Leveson observed.

“This has a huge knock-on effect on the business of the court in those cases, particularly where one or more prisoner concerned is significantly late. Furthermore, under the present contract for those travelling more than 45 miles, arrival at or after the time that the court is due to start is not a breach of the delivery time …The cost of lost time to the court system appears to be ignored.

“I would urge those responsible to reconsider the terms of any future contract with prisoner movement providers. They must demand greater efficiency and properly manage performance of the contract.”

Lord Justice Leveson also recommended that magistrates courts should have more flexible opening hours, to accommodate those who cannot attend court during normal work hours.

The report said: “This must be one of the few public services which [has] failed to acknowledge the different ways that members of the public now live their lives.”

In Part 10 of the report he covers more serious changes that would require new legislation in order for them to be made. The most radical of these involves changes to the right to choose a jury trial for either-way offences (that can be tried in either magistrates or Crown Court). Many who Lord Justice Leveson consulted as part of the review would like to see this decision lie with a judge rather than the defendant, as Crown Court trials are longer and more expensive and many crimes chosen for jury trial by defendants are not deemed worthy of the extra expense.

The main recommendations of Lord Justice Leveson are:

  • The greater use  of  video and other conferencing technology across the system (including courts and prisons) particularly featuring remote hearings in the Crown Court, which would lead to a better service for all those involved and reduce both delay and cost.
  • Facilitating the use in court of evidence gathered by police on video cameras mounted on their bodies or helmets and a streamlined approach to other evidence which has been captured electronically, such as interviews of child witnesses (achieving best evidence) and interviews with defendants.
  • More flexible opening hours in magistrates’ courts to accommodate those who cannot attend hearings during normal office hours.
  • Tighter case management by judges, including, in appropriate cases, the provision of timetables for evidence and speeches.
  • That contracts awarded to those responsible for delivering prisoners to court should require greater efficiency so that prisoners appear on time and do not delay proceedings.
  • That there should be funding available to pay for the inevitable cost of changing from the current systems to the more efficient ones.

Justice secretary Chris Grayling said: “This is a valuable report that will guide the next phase of our reforms to the Criminal Justice System. I would like to thank Sir Brian Leveson for his review.

“We are determined that our justice system delivers the right outcomes for victims of crime and the public as a whole, and we have made great strides in recent years – not least through smarter use of technology,  and joined-up working.

“I look forward to working with the senior judiciary and other leaders across the system to drive further improvements.”

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