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Community Justice Centre: North Liverpool

Volume 733: debated on Wednesday 30 November 2011


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government to what extent the North Liverpool Community Justice Centre has met its intended objectives, what plans they have for this centre, and what improvements they would envisage to this model if it were to be further replicated.

My Lords, we are evaluating the impact of the centre on reoffending, and on the efficiency of court processes and use of resources. The result will be published by the Ministry of Justice. The centre is continuing to operate and we continue to share its learning across the criminal justice system and court estate.

I am grateful for my noble friend’s reply. He will know that there is little real hard evidence of this pioneering community court’s work, particularly its involvement in the community itself. What criteria will be used and will those criteria involve the community court itself?

My Lords, the inquiry is looking at the impact on reoffending and the efficiency of process. Its findings are not yet available for release because that work is not yet completed, but I would find it inconceivable that the court itself and those who work in it had not fed into that inquiry.

My Lords, could the Minister could tell the House whether the Ministry of Justice has done an assessment of areas of deprivation in other cities where a community justice centre would be appropriate?

No, my Lords, we will look at the impact of this centre before we would contemplate doing this in any other cities, but I take the point made by the right reverend Prelate the Lord Bishop of Liverpool that this is operating in an area of very high deprivation, which I hope will be part of the assessment which the inquiry is making, taking note that it is in a particular area.

My Lords, in answering a question by the right reverend Prelate on 21 June, the Minister told the House that the evaluation that the Ministry of Justice, I think, is doing internally, would be completed later in the summer. We have had very clement weather for the last few months, but no one could say that it was still summer. Has the evaluation been completed yet? If it has not, when will it be completed, and will the results be published?

My Lords, it is always dangerous to give even vague dates, like “summer”, in making commitments. The study is still going on. I am confident of the integrity of the research, which is being carried out by Ministry of Justice analysts under the Government social research code. The research will be published by the Ministry of Justice. I think the safest commitment I could make now would be “as soon as possible”

My Lords, before that research is published, will the noble Lord be wary of comparing oranges with apples? What this North Liverpool Community Justice Centre does is very different from other existing systems elsewhere in the country. This is a pioneering scheme. It was introduced on the advice of my noble and learned friend, Lord Woolf, and was opened by the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Scotland. Will the noble Lord ensure that their advice is taken into account and that a genuinely independent assessment is made, and that it will be not be abandoned simply for cost-cutting reasons, which may appear prudent at the time, but in the long term might not save anything at all?

I hear the “hear, hears”, but of course cost does have to come into all these things. I do genuinely believe that this is being looked at. It is a freestanding experiment, as the noble Lord said, based upon the Red Hook Community Justice Center in New York. The truth is that we are looking at various experiments across the piece, some of which were started by the previous Administration, to find out about the effective administration of justice. I can promise that we are looking for legislative time for a justice reform Bill and that we are also looking at justice delivery in the north-west. The inquiry that the noble Lord, Lord Storey, asked about will be seen as a freestanding contribution without prejudice to the decisions that we have to make in that area.

My Lords, this is a unique and very innovative scheme. Can my noble friend, who has given quite positive answers so far, tell us whether the valuation is basically a statistical evaluation based upon reoffending rates, the cost per case and so on, or will the evaluation also involve discussions and interviews with offenders who have gone through the system and hopefully benefited from it, and with other people living in the community who have been affected by it?

I would hope that it is the kind of more holistic inquiry that my noble friend suggests. That is what we are trying to do, obviously within budgetary constraints. We are examining various ideas and experiments in the United Kingdom, the United States and around the world, to see how best practice and best efficiency can be achieved. That is what we hope will be the outcome of this inquiry and future development of policy.

My Lords, I wonder whether the noble Lord will be able to tell us whether the learning from the North Liverpool Community Justice Centre that was spread to places like Salford has been and is going to be continued.

As I understand it, it is continued. As I said in my opening remarks, it is spread across the estate and will continue to do so. I had better not say that it will continue as long as the centre is open, because then you will think of something dubious about that, but it will continue to be spread across the estate.