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Justice: North Liverpool Community Justice Centre

Volume 728: debated on Tuesday 21 June 2011


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have for the future of the Community Justice Centre in Liverpool and for the creation of other centres.

My Lords, we are considering the options for taking forward community justice and evaluating the effectiveness of the North Liverpool Community Justice Centre as part of that. We will consider the results of this evaluation once it has been completed later in the summer.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that very encouraging response. Is he aware that the time taken from first hearing to sentencing is, on average, 26 days at the justice centre, which compares with the national average of 174 days? Can he assure the House that the evaluation will be independent and will look at the benefits, both social and economic, for the whole of the criminal justice system?

My Lords, I think that I can give the right reverend Prelate that assurance. We are trying to learn all the lessons from the justice centre, which is a unique and innovative court model employing problem solving, partnership working, community involvement and a single-judge approach to tackling reoffending and improving community confidence in the justice system. We will seek in the study to learn lessons across the board which we can take into the wider criminal justice system.

My Lords, can the Minister be clearer about the assurance that he has just given to the right reverend Prelate? What will be the independent component of this investigation? Will he name the people, or the areas from which they are likely to come? It would be quite improper to leave this to the Ministry of Justice to do it itself.

I am not sure whether it would be improper for the Ministry of Justice to do it itself. The Ministry of Justice is very able to carry out this kind of assessment. When the assessment is completed and we draw our conclusions from it, it will be fully published and open to debate and question in Parliament.

My Lords, in assessing the effectiveness of the North Liverpool Community Justice Centre, will the Minister pay particular tribute to His Honour Judge David Fletcher, who has shown formidable and robust leadership as the single judge administering this system? Inasmuch as the Minister has already referred to the reduction in the time between arrest and sentencing, will he also say a word about the role of restorative justice in repairing the wrong done to victims, in which this court has shown such leadership?

Indeed, Judge Fletcher describes his approach as gripping—meaning that he is able, through this system, to deal holistically with the problems. The noble Lord, Lord Alton, is right about restorative justice, which is not unique to the Liverpool experiment. Much of the evidence that we have received shows that there is benefit both to the victim, who gets some closure in the trauma they have gone through, and to the defendant, who receives a form of punishment that points in the direction of rehabilitation as well. I also have to say that in the experiments we are conducting, we have to look at the cost of the facilities as well as the various benefits they bring.

My Lords, I am delighted to hear about the robust appraisal of the North Liverpool Community Justice Centre. As the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Liverpool said, the speed with which cases are handled is phenomenal, as is the high rate of guilty pleas. Another important consideration is the need to have a member of the judiciary at the heart of a deprived community, with all the strength that that person brings. Could that be part of the appraisal, please?

It certainly is part of the appraisal. One factor that has played very heavily is the fact that the centre is in a deprived community and has a permanent judge of very high rank who is able to hear a wide range of cases. These factors come into effect, but we also have to weigh other factors. The study so far does not show a great impact on reoffending rates, but that has to be a factor. The overall cost of the facility also has to be taken into account in present circumstances. However, we are looking across the board and later in the summer we will be able to draw lessons from the study.

My Lords, does the Minister appreciate that this initiative followed one that happened in the United States? There, it has been an immense success. I disclose an interest not only because of my chairmanship of the Prison Reform Trust but because I was responsible for recommending to Ministers in the previous Administration that they should look at what was happening in the States and introduce this experiment here. They did so and were very impressed. The experiment provides a solution where other systems do not. Above all, it can tackle repeated offending, which is so important.

My Lords, most certainly this followed a similar experiment in the United States, although I think that I am right in saying that the experiment was not repeated across the United States. It is one of a number of pilots initiated by the previous Administration. We are trying to draw the best lessons that we can from these pilots, including lessons about reoffending and cost effectiveness. That is partly why we are conducting the review and trying to learn lessons from other pilots that are being conducted in other parts of the country.

My Lords, I declare an interest as the Minister who laid the foundation stone of the centre. Will the noble Lord take into account the cost savings that are generated by virtue of the fact that the centre produces faster results than elsewhere? The right reverend Prelate mentioned 26 days and the 82 per cent guilty rate. Will the department take into account also the experiment in Salford, which took the results of the centre and spread them more widely?

My Lords, I will gently say, beware those who have laid foundation stones, either real or metaphorical, when you judge the efficiency and effectiveness of any project.

I hear the growl of approval; I presume it is from all the foundation stone layers in this House. I assure the noble and learned Baroness that the study will look in the round at the effectiveness of the centre. When that is done, we will report to Parliament.