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A criminal justice system in crisis?

A significant backlog of Crown Court cases hitting more than 60,000 by September 2022; the highest rate of prisoners on remand for 50 years and court buildings in poor repair. Committee Corridor continues its series on human rights and justice, asking whether the criminal justice system in England and Wales in crisis.

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The podcast

Legal commentator Joshua Rozenberg joins podcast host Joanna Cherry to consider the most pressing problems facing the sector. Top of the list is recruitment and a lack of young people able to practise criminal law. Unless there are enough lawyers, there will be repercussions for the whole system, he says.  They also consider the need for investment, research on rape convictions and the broadcasting of sentencing.  

Joanna then turns to Chair of the Home Affairs Committee and Labour MP, Diana Johnson; and Chair of the Justice Committee, Conservative MP, Sir Bob Neill, to hear what evidence their Committees have uncovered and what should be top of the Government’s to-do list.

The Justice Committee has conducted a number of inquiries looking in detail at the current state of the justice system, including Court Capacity and the role of adult custodial remand. The Home Affairs Committee has reported on the investigation and prosecution of rape. It is currently examining how the police service can reform to meet future challenges


Speakers: Joanna Cherry, Joshua Rozenberg, Sir Bob Neill & Dame Diana Johnson

[Music Playing]

Joanna: A significant backlog of Crown Court cases hitting more than 60,000 by September 2022, the highest rate of prisoners on remand for 50 years, and court buildings that are literally crumbling, causing cases to be cancelled. It's adding up to what some are calling a nightmare journey for victims, the accused, and lawyers alike.

So, today, we ask: is the criminal justice system in England and Wales in crisis?

Hello, and welcome to Committee Corridor. I'm Joanna Cherry, the Scottish National Party Member of Parliament for Edinburgh South West, and I chair the Joint Committee on Human Rights.

In this series, we're looking at the issues of human rights and justice. Later, we'll be joined by the chairs from two of the cross-party select committees in the House of Commons.

The Justice Select Committee examines the policies and spendings of the Ministry of Justice. Sir Bob Neill is the chair and will be discussing the committee's work on court capacity and the role of adult custodial remand in the criminal justice system.

Dame Diana Johnson chairs the Home Affairs Committee, which examines Government policy, spending and law in areas including policing.

The committee recently reported on the investigation and prosecution of rape, and we're going to be taking a close look at that.

But first I want to talk to the legal commentator, Joshua Rozenberg. He's been talking about legal affairs for many years on the BBC, in the Telegraph, Guardian, and since 2008, the Law Society Gazette. Joshua also presents the BBC's long running legal series, Law in Action.

Joshua, we're delighted to have you with us today. Can I ask you, do you think the criminal justice system in England and Wales is in crisis?

Joshua: I suppose if it is a crisis, it's not as acute now as it was when barristers were on strike, when members of the Criminal Bar Association were refusing to take cases. That was resolved in the seven weeks when Dominic Raab was not Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor by a pay offer.

And there has also been an improved pay offer to prosecuting lawyers. So, to some extent, things are slightly better than they were a few months ago, but long-term, no, I don't think it's in a very good place at all.

And if you can define crisis as continuing over a period of time, then I think the criminal justice system is in a pretty bad way.

Joanna: Now, you've mentioned the threatened strike action by barristers and the concern and the part of other professionals working in the system.

But can you tell us what are the most pressing issues in the criminal justice system in England and Wales right now?

Joshua: The problem is recruitment. There aren't enough lawyers doing criminal law, and that's not just bad for people who need defence lawyers, and even prosecutors, it's bad for the long-term progress of the judiciary because the judiciary is drawn from practitioners.

There's already a shortfall in recruitment to the circuit bench in England and Wales, they can't get enough judges in the Crown Court. And if you are looking at the pool to succeed Lord Burnett of Maldon as Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales, you look for somebody with criminal experience. There are not so many judges with the criminal experience which is perhaps just a small part of that important job.

So, unless you are bringing people up through the legal profession, you are not going to get the judges of the future, and you are not bringing people out through the legal profession because young people simply can't afford to practise as criminal barristers.

They are not being recruited as criminal trainee solicitors because the money has been so low for so long that who, apart from the most idealistic people in the world, would want to do criminal law.

Joanna: So, what's the solution?

Joshua: Don't start from here, but if you have got to start from here, you've obviously got to put more money into it. And not just money, I think it would help if Government ministers made it clear to young lawyers that criminal lawyers are not only needed, but welcome.

You get quite a lot of rhetoric these days about fat cat lawyers (well, young people aren't in that position), but you also get a bit of rhetoric sometimes from people about lawyers helping criminals to get off.

If you don't have defence lawyers, then people can't be prosecuted because a fair trial, obviously, it requires at least in the more serious cases, that somebody is offered the opportunity of representation, otherwise, you wouldn't have convictions.

So, it's absolutely essential that you have a rigorous, robust, vigorous criminal bar and criminal solicitors if you are going to have people properly prosecuted and safely convicted, and if they are guilty, sent to prison or whatever punishment is required.

Joanna: Thank you. I turn now and look at the backlog in Crown Court cases. I'm a Scot's lawyer and I know there's a backlog in the Scottish criminal justice system as well. Are the backlogs in England and Wales just down to COVID, or is there more to it?

Joshua: It's not just COVID, there was a backlog before the pandemic, and that was for a rather strange reason, there was a restriction on the number of sitting days that judges could put in. In other words, judges were being paid to sit at court and not hear cases.

Now, the thinking behind this (as far as there was any thinking) was that if you reduce the number of cases going through the Crown Court, you reduce the pressure on the prison service.

You've got fewer cases being tried, you've got fewer defendants being sent to prison, and that saves money because you don't need the prison places, which of course, are very, very expensive.

So, there was this artificial constraint on the number of cases being heard by the Crown Courts, jury trials in England and Wales for some time.

Now, to be fair to the Government that constraint was lifted, but of course, just because you loosen the collar, it doesn't actually mean that things are going to get better immediately because judges retired, for example. Judges decided that they didn't want to do this sort of work and went off to other areas of work. Lawyers found themselves without work and gave up criminal work.

So, even though the Government has said, “Well, we are very happy to pay for as many court days, as many judge days as may be needed,” it doesn't follow that the backlog is being reduced.

You've got judges sitting in retirement, you've got something rather unusual in England and Wales, which is district judges who normally try cases in the magistrate’s court (these are professional lawyers rather than lay magistrates), some of them are hearing cases in the Crown Court.

So, now the system is doing everything it can to try to get these cases being dealt with, but you've still got people waiting a year, two years, even three years, and sometimes, quite a long time in custody waiting for trial.

Joanna: Now, the UK Government have set themselves a target to reduce their Crown Court's backlog, they want to reduce it to 53,000 cases by March 2025. Do you think, Joshua, that's a realistic target or in fact, do you think the Government should be more ambitious?

Joshua: I think it's very hard to judge what a realistic target is. It's fine to have a target and provided it's dealt with properly and corners aren't cut, if it encourages people to do their best to try to reduce the backlog as quickly as possible, that's fine.

And we've talked about ways in which the judges for one, are trying to reduce the backlog, so that's fine. But on the other hand, if it were possible to reduce the backlog more quickly, that would be even better.

The Government should be putting in all the resources it possibly can to reduce the backlog, while bearing in mind that although we talk about the criminal justice system, it's not really a system, it's a series of interconnected parts, and each depends on the other. You need police, you need prosecutors, you need defence lawyers, you need judges. And if one part of the system isn't performing, then you have problems.

But ultimately, you need to put all the money you possibly can into the system in order to reduce the backlog while bearing in mind that the consequence of that, unless sentencing policy changes, these are going to have to put a great deal of more money into the prisons.

Joanna: The Justice Committee have been looking into the number of defendants currently being held in custodial remand, and it's at the highest level for 50 years with people being held for a longer than usual as they await their trial. Can you tell us a bit about that?

Joshua: I'm not surprised that people are being held longer in custody awaiting their trial, because of course, the backlogs we've been talking about have meant that the period between somebody being charged and somebody being tried is getting longer and longer.

Now, to be fair, those responsible for criminal prosecutions in the courts will do their best to ensure that defendants in custody are tried more quickly than defendants who are out on bail, and there are custody time limits which have to be complied with, but there are ways in which they can be extended.

It is very unfortunate that people are in custody. Obviously, people facing serious charges need to be in custody for public safety, but on the other hand, it is much harder for their defence lawyers to take instructions, talk to them, and so on.

So, it's clearly a serious problem. We certainly need defendants to be held in custody, but we want to try to reduce the backlog so that the period between arrest and trial is as short as it reasonably can be.

Joanna: Thanks. Now, I'd like now to look at one area in particular, and that's an inquiry by the Home Affairs Committee into the investigation and prosecution of rape, which is a subject close to my own heart as that's something I did for three years in Scotland as a specialist sex crimes prosecutor.

Now, the Home Affairs report (which of course looks into the system in England and Wales) has highlighted the exceptionally low volume of rape charges and prosecutions and said that that was unacceptable.

EU reported recently that rape convictions in England and Wales have increased from 55% to 75% over the past 15 years, meaning that in 75% of the rape cases that actually go to trial, there's a conviction.

Now, that's based on research published in the Criminal Law Review, should we be surprised by that?

Joshua: I think some people were surprised by this, certainly some campaigners understood the position to be very different. The fact is this research was conducted by a leading academic at UCL, the University of London, Professor Cheryl Thomas, who is the leading jury researcher, I think certainly in England and Wales, if not the United Kingdom.

And because of the concern over rape cases, she and her team (perhaps just she really with some support) were given access to a data set covering more than five and a half million criminal charges, every charge against every defendant at every Crown Court Centre in England and Wales for a period of 15 years to the end of 2021.

And she looked at these figures, she looked at more than 68,000 cases where juries were given the opportunity to consider whether an accused person was guilty of rape or not.

And analysed these cases, and led to the findings that you indicated, which is that for every year, but one, over the past 15 years, the conviction rate for rape was above 50%, meaning that juries found defendants guilty more often than they acquitted them, and in some cases, more recently, it's gone up to 75%.

Now, this is not what people thought, but bear in mind, we are talking about the cases that go before a jury. For many reasons, cases do not get as far as a jury, they may not get as far as charges, the complaint may be withdrawn for various reasons.

One of the other aspects of her work was to look at so-called rape myths. The myths that are said about how juries operate and what they think and what they believe about men and what they believe about women, and all that sort of thing. And she was able to demonstrate that those are myths.

If a case is properly investigated and brought before a jury, then even though a very high preponderance of defendants plead not guilty, the chances are that they will be convicted.

Joanna: Is there any evidence to suggest that the Crown Prosecution Service are only taking cases to trial with a high likelihood of conviction, by which I mean those that are more clear-cut and perhaps guaranteed to succeed?

Joshua: You ask whether prosecutors are perhaps going for the low-hanging fruit. That might have seemed the case, particularly during the pandemic when resources were heavily stretched. But it doesn't explain why the conviction rate remained very high at 75% when challenging return to earlier levels, so I think the short answer is we don't know.

There must be a temptation sometimes to go for the very easy cases because you're more likely to get convictions, there must be a temptation to go for the most difficult cases because you don't want the responsibility for saying that case will not go to court.

And it's down to me, the prosecutor, and we could run it before a jury, and who knows what's going to happen. So, it's quite difficult.

Joanna: Earlier you talked about how the Government could make a career in criminal defence, a more attractive prospect for young people starting out on their legal careers.

But are there other things that could be done within the wider system to improve it? I'm thinking about more investment, and I'm also thinking about the use of technology, or should we be cautious about the use of technology? I know you've written about this.

Joshua: Certainly, there needs to be more investment. In every criminal court in England or Wales Bar one that's the old Bailey, which is funded by the corporation of London, the city of London, the physical facilities range from bad to appalling.

There are buckets under, there’re leaks in the roof, all the carpets are rotten, things are worn out, the light bulbs are — all this sort of thing. I don't visit them regularly, but speak to any criminal lawyer, and they will tell you that the place is just depressing to work in.

And that doesn't just apply to the barristers, solicitors who have to come in and work there and find things not working and not operating as they should, it applies to the judges as well, who find it depressing.

They are dealing with IT failures, which were called out the other day by the National Audit Office, which is the parliamentary watchdog, which said that something called the Common Platform, which was meant to bring together the work of the Crown Prosecution Service and the courts and tribunal service wasn't working properly, there were problems, things were going wrong.

In some cases, the defendants who should have been released on licence wearing ankle tags so that people knew where they were, those orders for tagging weren't sent through.

If the system isn't working, if the technology isn't working, if the courts aren't providing attractive working environments, why would anybody want to do this?

As I said, you have to be jolly ideologically committed to commit yourself to do this sort of work if nobody else seems to be taking any care over you, and everybody seems to be taking you for granted.

Joanna: Thanks. Now, just moving on, just slightly different topic; last year saw the introduction of the broadcasting of sentencing remarks, and we'll all have seen on the television news in serious cases a footage of the judge at sentencing the accused. Do you think that's going to make a difference to public confidence?

Joshua: I think it has gone down well. I think the judges are pleased with the way that it's happened, it's been a very long time coming. But it does, I think, show the people who are interested in the system, how much care a judge takes in deciding what sentence to pass.

Now, this is very limited. All you can see is a head and shoulders short of the judge addressing the defendant, the accused person. You don't see the accused, you don't see any other lawyers — all you see is the judge reading out her or his sentencing remarks.

But I think those have quite an impact. Sometimes the sentencing remarks are so disturbing because the judge obviously has to go through what the defendant did that the broadcasters will not broadcast the material live because it would be too upsetting to the public.

I don't think people really understand that, but even what is broadcast, you can see how seriously the courts take it. Judges will often refer to the victims of crime perhaps in a murder case, the bereaved family. And people can obviously read these sentencing remarks, but they don't. For some people it's not real unless you can see it on a screen.

So, I'm sure it's a good move, I'm sure the broadcasters want to go further, they want to broadcast criminal trials or more of criminal trials, which they can't do in England and Wales, although they can do in Scotland with the consent of the parties and have done.

I think the broadcasting of sentencing remarks is a good thing and I think it will have an impact, sadly not on the defendants, but it should show the public how seriously judges take this.

Joanna: Well, thank you Joshua, and thank you very much for joining us today.

Joshua: It's been a great pleasure, Joanna, and thank you for all the work you do in this field.

[Jingles Playing]

Joanna: I'm joined now by two parliamentarians whose cross-party committees have been asking questions on these issues. Sir Bob Neill, is the Conservative member of Parliament for Bromley and Chislehurst, and he chairs the Justice Committee.

Dame Diana Johnson is the Labour MP for Kingston upon Hull North, and she chairs the Home Affairs Committee.

Bob in April 2022, you wrote that the courts in England and Wales were on life support, has the situation improved since then?

Bob: Only marginally, I think, Joanna. Although there has been some improvement in the backlog in criminal cases, there's still a very long way to go. I don't think the Government's target for reducing the backlog to 50 odd 1000 is anything like ambitious enough.

We are still seeing serious cases, often involving complex issues being listed 18 months, two years in advance, that's not satisfactory. And of course, we talk in terms of criminal justice because that's the most publicly visible, but there are also serious delays in the civil justice and family jurisdictions as well.

So, frankly, now, it's still on support, it's marginally better, but it's still certainly not out of the woods at all.

Joanna: Now, we've heard a bit from Joshua about digital case management and that there might have been some problems with that. Can you tell me whether that's of a concern to your committee and how digital case management fits into the bigger picture of reform to the courts and tribunals?

Bob: It is a concern because I'm afraid like a lot of Government IT projects it's been, I think procured without its sufficient end-user involvement. The Common Platform, for example, in criminal cases (although it's made some progress in the Crown Courts) has caused real difficulties in the magistrate's court.

The Law Chief Justice, when he gave evidence to us, raised a practical concern that judges and magistrates have, which is called “resulting,” putting in the results into the system, that's pretty basic, but that hadn't been got right.

And finally, has only just been corrected, and of course, the county courts where most civil proceedings take place are still largely paper-based. So, although it's moving, it's moving at a snail’s pace, I'm afraid.

And we have real concerns about that because a great deal of money has been invested in this. And a lot of justice reform has been predicated on a move to digital case management.

Joanna: Now, looking to the legal profession itself, your committee has done a lot of work recently looking at criminal legal aid and also at the situation faced by solicitors, defence barristers and prosecutors.

Is the Government doing enough in this area, or could it do more to make a career in the legal profession more attractive, particularly to people who might be thinking about entering a career in criminal justice?

Bob: I think it's got to do more. I, as you know, Joanna, I spent most of my career as a barrister doing criminal work. I'm not sure, frankly, as someone who didn't have any sort of private means to rely upon, I'm not sure I could take that chance, now if I was starting out in the way that I could then, because although I'm very pleased that there's been an uplift in legal aid defence fees, it's still only running to catch up.

And what I think we have to have is first of all, a proper assessment of what the fee level should be. It's better than it was, but it's still far less than you get in other types of work.

For example, if you're doing cases which involve domestic abuse, you are paid rather better doing the family court element of that, then you will be doing the criminal trials, which is ironic.

Secondly, although we've now got broad parity between defence and prosecution cases, I had comments from a former Member of Parliament, Anna Soubry who's back in practice at the bar now.

And Anna was telling me that in the Midland Circuit where she operates, they're still having real problems getting prosecutors to deal with major heavy rape and sexual offence cases, manslaughters and so on.

So, we're still not getting enough people, and the final point is the solicitor's fees still lag well behind what's required. So, solicitors are at the moment still not catching up with the bar in terms of fees.

And we still have legal aid deserts for some parts of the country where it's virtually impossible to find a legal aid solicitor, the duty solicitor scheme, the people who go to the police stations first port of call, if you like, in many cases you got the average age is about late forties.

Young people are not coming into criminal work, so we are far from resolving this issue at all. It needs a serious injection of cash.

Joanna: Thanks, Bob, now, you mentioned there’re difficulties in getting prosecutors to prosecute rape cases, and I want to bring Diana in here because the Home Affairs Select Committee looked into the investigation and prosecution of rape.

Diana, can you spell out some of the findings that you made and some of the figures involved?

Diana: Yes, and we decided to carry out that inquiry into the investigation and prosecution of rape because the statistics that we were seeing about the number of cases being reported at an all-time high, actually in 2021 it was 67,125 rape allegations were made to the police.

But what we know is that only one in a hundred were resulting in a charge. So, we were really concerned about that. Now, the figures for 2022 are a little better. We know that up until September 2022, there were 70,663 rapes recorded by the police, and we know that there were 2,616 who actually went on to be charged.

So, the figures are slightly better, but we are starting from a very low base, and obviously, the Home Affairs Select Committee was really concerned about that and wanted to try and understand what was going wrong, why were the public coming forward? The numbers were the highest ever, yet actually, the attrition rate of getting to charge, let alone getting to court was so low.

And I think the Government have accepted through their end-to-end rape review that they needed to address what had happened in this falloff in numbers. And they've got Operation Soteria, which is working with some police forces to try and make sure that that investigation of rapes is as thorough as can be, and that resources are made available.

But then the experience of what happens once you've reported is still of huge concern to the committee, and we made a number of recommendations about what more the police needed to do.

Joanna: Well, I'd like to ask you about that because in the past, there's been some fairly high-profile instances in which the courts have been very critical of the police's approach to investigating rape cases, and I'm thinking about John Warboys, the Black Cab Taxi Rapist.

What did your committee's inquiry conclude about the police's approach to investigating rape cases, and were you able to identify anything in their approach which contributed to the fact that so few cases are going to court?

Diana: Well, one of the key recommendations that we made in our report was the evidence is in, that if you have specialist rape, serious sexual assault units within police forces, you are going to get a more thorough investigation of the allegation, you're going to have better communication with the person who's made that allegation, you are more likely to be able to move that case along to the CPS and hopefully, get it to court.

And we were really surprised that I think it's only three fifths of police forces actually have those specialist units. And I still do not understand why all of our 43 police forces do not have those specialist units.

We were also concerned about the fact that we couldn't get our hands on any numbers of how many police officers have actually had specialist training around dealing with rape and serious sexual assault allegations, and that’s concerning as well.

And you'll know that there's this huge number of new officers coming into our police forces through the Uplift Programme, and we want to make sure that those officers that deal with these very serious cases are properly trained. So, those are two things we were very struck by.

The other issue, of course, is the actual individual making the claim and how they've been treated by the police and what they said to us about that experience. Now, we did have some people who'd — a positive experience and felt well-supported and had gone through that process.

But we met with and heard from sadly, many women, particularly, who said they felt that they were under investigation more so than the person who they were making the allegation of rape against by the police. So, there's a culture that still needs to be addressed within police forces.

And we know that what also helps individuals when they're going through making a report of rape and have to go through then very detailed and distressing questioning and the processes of the police that the ISVAs (the Independent Sexual Violence Advisors) they are really important to making sure that claimants actually carry on with their case and go forward because there's a huge attrition rate.

And that also leads me on to the point, which I'm sure Bob will agree with me on, just how long it takes to get a case to court. And that again, for a person who's had this awful trauma of rape or serious sexual assault to then have to wait months if not years, to get to court. For some, they decide enough, I'm not willing to wait around for so long.

Joanna: How's the Government responded to your recommendations?

Diana: Well, they are putting a lot of store into Operation Soteria. So, they are doing a lot of work to roll out the findings from Operation Soteria in the small number of police forces that have it at the moment.

We are concerned because obviously there are resource implications if you are asking police forces to do new things, to adopt new ways of working, so that's one thing.

We have regular statistics being produced on what's happening in terms of the numbers of rape allegations coming forward and what's happening, then in terms of charging. As I said in 2022, we've seen a little bit of an improvement.

One of the things I haven't mentioned (but we were very keen on in the report we published) was for those people making rape allegations to the police to have access to independent legal advice themselves. And I know Dame Vera Baird piloted this when she was the PCC up in the Northeast.

And the evidence we heard about that it was very helpful for women particularly to have that access to that independent legal advice around things like having your mobile telephone taken away from you and what that was all about, perhaps disclosure around counselling records, because that's obviously an issue many people have worried about. The Government said they would look at this further.

Joanna: So, you're referring there to recommendations of Dame Vera Baird when she was the police complaints commissioner in, I think you said the Northeast, and of course, she's also formally the victims commissioner, and those recommendations are about getting women who complain of rape, getting them independent legal advice.

And I know this has been an issue widely talked about in my own jurisdiction in Scotland as well, the importance of women's right to privacy being protected, for example, if their mobile phone is recovered by the police.

Bob, is there anything you'd like to comment in on this issue?

Bob: Well, we looked at the situation in terms of complainants in rape and serious sexual offense cases in the context of our pre-legislative scrutiny of the victim's bill recently. And the evidence certainly emphasised the importance of ISVAs.

It raised the issue as Diana has mentioned, of independent legal advice potentially, which we do think the Government should be looking at. And the difficulty I think that I found as a practitioner and the evidence to our committee was quite clear on this as well is disclosure is a difficult and sensitive topic because we've all seen cases in practice go wrong and miscarriages justice occur if disclosure isn't done properly.

Joanna: I just want to step back now and ask a couple of more high-level questions of you both. Looking to how the Government manages the criminal justice system, do you think there's a problem that they're too focused on short-term action to deal with one crisis after another rather than long-term investment? Perhaps, I'll start first with you there, Bob.

Bob: Yes, I think that's true, and I think it's always been a problem in the way in which we do Government in the UK. I can think of it going back all the time I've been in the house, is that Government tends to be quite short-termist, perhaps it's the price we pay for our democratic system that you have an eye on the next election.

But I think in criminal justice, it's particularly problematic because actually it's what we deal with in the criminal justice theory, it's the downstream end of things. An awful lot of the problems that lead to people coming into court have happened well before they got anywhere near the police, well before they ever came anywhere near a court.

And we don't, I think, take a sufficiently long view or a sufficiently joined up view about picking up, for example, those issues that might be happening at school, that might be happening through social services and health service to try and invest in those folk earlier on, to try and make sure they don't get into the justice system to start with.

And then when people do come in contact with the justice system, I think often, the interventions at the early stage are perfunctory, they're not well enough joined up. And you then get into this vicious circle of re-offending and re-offending is one of the real problems I think we have in our jurisdictions where we tend to have worse re-offending rates than many of our neighbours in continental Europe.

And that's something which I think indicates that we don't look at it end-to-end as we should be.

Joanna: Thanks Bob. Diana, do you agree with that or is there anything you'd like to add or disagree with?

Diana: Well, I think I agree that we have a four or five-year political cycle in this country, and that means that Governments are very focused on what they can do within that period. I'm just thinking back actually to a point I made earlier on about one of the policies of the current Government in terms of the uplift to the number of police officers we have.

And this has arisen because there's been over the last number of years cuts to police officers and the Government decided they needed to get those numbers up. And it just struck me that whilst that's laudable to say we're going to have 20,000 new police officers in the longer term, what we should be thinking about in terms of policing is what do we actually need?

Do we need 20,000 police officers on the beat walking the streets or are we looking to what policing needs in the next 10, 20 years? Do we need specialists? Do we need people who have a great deal of knowledge say around fraud and IT and digital?

And it's the same when we are looking at addressing the culture within the police, the issues we've been talking about in terms of rape investigations and prosecutions, thinking long-term about what our police forces need to have the kind of personnel within police forces, the culture, all of that is something that needs much more long-term thinking.

Joanna: Thank you. Now, one big innovation members of the public will have noticed, at least in England and Wales last year, was the introduction of the broadcasting of sentencing remarks, we've had that for a while in Scotland.

Do you think the ability to broadcast sentencing remarks will make a difference to public confidence? Perhaps, I could come to you first, Bob.

Bob: I hope so, it should, and it certainly can't do any harm. Of course, you'll never probably going to be able to broadcast all sentencing remarks. But I do think it's worth doing, and when I've watched the sentencing remarks as probably you have, Joanna, in some of these high-profile cases, it always strikes me the care with which judges deal with these issues.

The old days when it was a very off-the-cuff sentencing process are long gone, and actually if it demonstrates to the public A) the care and professionalism of which judges approach it, but also, the complexities of the issue, because actually getting the right balance in sentencing isn't easy. And I think the more transparent we are about that, that can only be helpful.

Diana: I think that the more that victims can hear what's gone on in court and hear what a judge has to say, I think that might help with the confidence issue that many victims feel that their voices aren't heard within the court.

I just think that is another part of the jigsaw to restore confidence and feel that the criminal justice system works for victims and people and encourage people to come forward when they've been the victim of a crime.

Joanna: Well, it's tempting to end there on a positive note, but I think our discussion overall shows that the criminal justice system in England and Wales has a huge mountain to climb.

So, I want to end by asking you both what you think should be the most important item on the Government's to-do list? And I'll start with you, Diana.

Diana: Well, there are so many things, but I think for me and from the report that we published last year in terms of rape investigations, I would go back to this issue of specialist rape and serious sexual offence units within each police force.

I think until we've got that in every police force, we are still not going to get to the point where investigations are as good as they can be, and that unless you've got that, you're not going to get to the next stage of then moving onto the CPS and into court.

So, for me, the Government really need to be clear with police forces. We need RASSO units in all police forces.

Joanna: Specialist units, specialist rape units, in all police forces, thanks Diana. Bob, what do you think should be top of the Government's to-do list?

Bob: In a nutshell, Joanna, money. You cannot get a decent criminal justice system on the cheap. And as well as these issue that Diana's just mentioned. That also means, as I said before, having a proper, a fair remuneration for the lawyers who make the system work, recruiting enough judges.

We had a shortfall in recruitments to the Crown Court bench for the last two recruitment rounds. Those Crown Court judges, as you know, are the workhorses of the system, they do the bulk of the criminal cases.

And thirdly, we need to invest actually in the courtrooms. All too often something like 15% of courtrooms in the country are not in use for one reason or another, either lack of judges or because the physical state of the building means that they're out of commission for repairs, you can't get criminal justice on the cheap.

And we ought to be regarding it as much an important social service as we would access to education or healthcare or social services for the elderly or the unwell. So, it's recognising that it's actually a fundamental part of the fabric of a civilised society, is a functioning and proper resource justice system.

Joanna: Indeed and thank you both very much for joining us today, that's been a really interesting discussion, thank you.

[Music Playing]

Joanna: My thanks to all my guests today. We're now more than halfway through our series on human rights and justice, and in our final two episodes, we'll be talking about your rights at work, and we'll be having a special episode to mark a significant birthday.

Select Committees are made up from Members of Parliament who swap opposition for collaboration. For 25 years, the Environmental Audit Committee has been looking into how the Government's policies and programs contribute to environmental protection and sustainable development, and they've been auditing the Government's performance against its own targets. We'll be hearing about its achievements since its foundation in November 1997 and asking what's next.

Find all our past episodes by searching UK Parliament plus Committee Corridor. If you're enjoying our podcast, please spread the word.

I'm Joanna Cherry, MP, and this has been Committee Corridor, thank you for listening.

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