29 Oct 2002 06:45 PM

(Issued through the Lord Chancellor's Department Press Office) 377/02 29 October 2002


Lord Woolf, the Lord Chief Justice, this evening gave the second Rose lecture, Achieving Criminal Justice, at Manchester Town Hall. Speaking to an audience invited by the Northern Circuit of the Bar and the Manchester Law Society, Lord Woolf identified two problem areas for the criminal justice system today.

The first, was the continuing failure of the players within the system to communicate and co-operate effectively. Examples quoted by Lord Woolf included the 1,326 occasions last year when the prosecution was not ready to start a Crown Court trial on the scheduled date and the problems and increased costs caused by the late delivery of prisoners to Court.

Lord Woolf commented favourably on the piloting of new liaison arrangements between the police and the CPS and the establishment of video links between courts and prisons. He also recognised that there was commitment to co-operation at the highest level within Government. To secure further progress, Lord Woolf placed great emphasis on the establishment of a Criminal Procedure Rules Committee to produce a new set of rules for criminal justice and so provide a blueprint for the preparation and conduct of criminal proceedings.

He stated:
"The proper role of government is to provide the framework, while those who have first hand experience of how the system works in practice provide the detail. Unless those who have the experience and the day-to-day responsibility on the ground are intimately involved in the process of change, they will not feel the sense of ownership which is required to make the change a success."

The second problem area identified by Lord Woolf was prison overcrowding, described by him as "a cancer eating at the ability of the prison service to deliver". Overcrowding prevented the Prison Service from making effective use of the considerable skills it had developed in respect of education, training and tackling offending behaviour. If the Prison Service was not able to fulfill this fundamental role, prosecuting offenders to conviction achieved little, if any, protection for the public. The effectiveness of the criminal justice system had to be judged by the extent to which it could reduce the pattern of re-offending.

In analysing why the United Kingdom was currently imprisoning more people than any other country in Western Europe other than Turkey, Lord Woolf said the judiciary must accept some of the blame. But he also pointed to the continuous upward pressure on sentences from public opinion, the media, Parliament and the government of the day. Other contributing factors included the wide-ranging impact of decisions by Parliament to increase the maximum sentence for a particular type of offence and the damping effect of the increasing number of guideline judgments and Attorney General's references on sentencers' discretion to extend leniency in particular cases. Lord Woolf called for the proposed Sentencing Guidelines Council to be required to produce guidelines that would result in a better match between the number of prisoners and prison capacity. He also argued that a wider range of community penalties (including 'community service minus' as promised in the White Paper) would enable courts to give offenders incentives to take part in drug rehabilitation, restorative justice and other programmes geared to preventing re-offending. He said

"The White Paper provides a vision of what might be achieved by diverting offenders from crime without burdening our prisons. However, the vision has no hope of fulfilment unless the Probation Service is to be funded on a different scale from what is now proposed."

Lord Woolf concluded his lecture:
"We have tried a more punitive approach and that has failed. There is an opportunity now for a different approach, a holistic approach, which recognises that all parts of the justice system need to pull together."