Criminal Justice and Courts Bill

Written evidence submitted by the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) (CJC 11)

PCS submission to the criminal justice and courts bill committee

1. The Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) is one of the largest trade unions in the UK, with 250,000 members. We are organised throughout the civil service and government agencies, making us the UK’s largest civil service trade union. We also organise widely in the private sector, usually in areas that have been privatised.

2. PCS is the recognised trade union for civil servants and others employed in the administration of justice and in offender management. Members work for HM Courts and Tribunal Service, the Ministry of Justice, National Offender Management Service (NOMS), Youth Justice Board (YJB) and the Parole Board.

3. PCS welcomes the opportunity to present evidence to the bill committee on what is an important piece of legislation relating to a broad range of issues within the criminal justice process.

4. We welcome the restriction on cautions contained within the bill but have concerns about the way "exceptional circumstances" will operate.

5. PCS is very concerned that the introduction of the Single Justice Procedure focuses too much on the speed of justice and that offender management will be overlooked. We are concerned about the lack of transparency particularly as cases will be heard without the parties being present.

6. The Criminal Courts Charge adds to the complexity of financial penalties prosecution costs, surcharge then courts charge. We are concerned that vulnerable people on low incomes will be penalised as this will not be means tested.

7. PCS believes that the changes to judicial review will restrict access to justice and will make government less accountable.

Part 1 – criminal justice

8. PCS welcomes clause 2 which gives clarification about the extent of sexual offences to be subject to the dangerous offenders sentencing scheme. We also welcome clause 5 that would introduce a new "special custodial sentences for certain offenders of particular concern".

9. PCS is in favour of clause 4 which would see the greater involvement of the Parole Board in deciding whether to release those serving extended sentences.

10. PCS is concerned that the use of mandatory electronic monitoring (as proposed in clause 6) including GPS monitoring of whereabouts of those released from prison will be extensive and will not always be necessary and proportionate to the offences involved.

11. Clauses 10 and 11, which introduce the offences of remaining unlawfully at large after recall and remaining unlawfully at large after temporary release respectively, are welcome as this was a gap in previous legislation.

12. PCS supports the restriction on the use of cautions contained in clause 14. A caution for a rape or robbery does not only affect the offender and the victim but gives a message to society that such behaviour is tolerated and does not require judicial involvement. PCS believe cautions have been used excessively to run down the criminal courts. However, PCS is concerned that following the court closures and staff cuts, proper restriction on cautioning may find the courts struggling to cope. We are also concerned that to give police discretion in exceptional circumstances will have an impact on public confidence.

13. Where an offence is serious enough to be triable only on indictment there should never be a caution for an adult. A caution requires an admission of guilt. If circumstances are so exceptional should not a judge consider those circumstances to be sure that such a serious offence is made out before it is added to the record. If it is not that exceptional, a judge should consider sentence, there should be particular transparency in such serious cases.

Part 2 – Young offenders

14. Clause 17 amends the Prison Act 1952, by adding secure colleges to the list of types of establishment that the Secretary of State may provide. PCS support better educational provision

15. clause 17 PCS support better educational provision for those in custody but do not support this important work being handed to the private sector to make profit.

Part 3 – Courts and tribunals

16. PCS is concerned about clauses 24 – 28 which would introduce trial by a single justice on the papers. PCS is concerned that the change from "public prosecutors" to relevant prosecutors is an indication of further privatisation. PCS believes that the single justice procedure is another cut to justice, it will effectively be a ‘rubber stamping’, procedure and will reduce transparency in the system.

17. Thousands of regulatory offences are dealt with by way of fixed penalty. If there are issues which make them inappropriate for that procedure more than one lay justice should consider them. Magistrates do not generally make decisions alone. They are lay people. The fact there is more than one of them protects offenders from the consequences of inexperience, confusion and rogue decisions.

18. PCS legal advisor members are concerned that the court pays little enough heed to what defendants write at present in mitigation and focus on means and calculation of fines.

19. PCS is concerned that justice will not be seen to be to be done. Offenders will not even know which court is hearing the case. It will be difficult to discern which case an endorsement on a driving licence relates to.

20. The system of local justice in England and Wales has been changed after over 90 magistrates’ courts and 49 country courts have been closed. Centralisation of this type of work means it is no longer local and worryingly, in our view, paves the way for further court closures.

Costs of criminal courts – clauses 29-31

21. Financial penalties can be complicated. They are often imposed in absence so the offender cannot ask for clarification. Offenders may be ordered to pay a fine, arrears of road fund licence duty or compensation to the victim of crime. In all cases of a fine there is a victim surcharge even though with thousands of offences the victim is the state or a public authority. In most cases the costs of the prosecutor will be added and now the costs of the courts.

22. PCS notes that the enforcement of all sums imposed by the criminal courts is at the moment being privatised. This is one more charge for the private company to make a profit from at the expense of the most vulnerable in society.

23. Clause 31 allows an offender to apply to a fine office for the payment or reserve terms of a collection order to be varied. PCS notes with concern that the Ministry of Justice is currently considering bids for the outsourcing of the collection and enforcement of fines, costs and compensation. The implications of this are very concerning. This could mean officers exercising the power to vary orders of the court will be the employees of a private company and PCS opposes any extension of their powers at this time. Private companies should not be allowed to make judicial decisions.

Part 4 – Judicial Reviews

24. PCS believes that judicial reviews are of constitutional importance as a useful tool in holding the government of the day to account, protecting the public interest, and in improving policy-making. We believe the changes put forward in the bill represent a significant attack on the ability of individuals, charities, non-governmental organisations and trade unions to have access to challenge decisions made by the state. We are concerned that they will serve to make the government and public bodies less accountable as decision makers.

25. At the time of its consultation, the Government pointed to the rise in the number of applications as a major factor in the need to review the system. Administrative Court data is highlighted that shows there were only 4,500 applications for judicial review in 1998, as opposed to 12,400 in 2012. In its response to the consultation the government further notes that the volume of judicial reviews lodged continued to increase. However, there is no evidence that addresses whether the underlying problem is the result of faults in the initial decisions that are being challenged rather than the processes that are already in place.

March 2014

Prepared 13th March 2014