The criminal justice system encompasses policing, prosecutions, the courts and offender management (prisons and probation), and spans two principal departments – the Ministry of Justice and the Home Office.
In recent years, the impetus towards greater co-ordination and co-operation between the main criminal justice agencies has been mirrored in the monitoring and inspection arrangements for the criminal justice system (such as Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabularies). These inspection regimes increasingly focus on the extent to which bodies working in this sector work with one another. The inspectorates themselves also worked closely to develop a unified idea of criminal justice in the locality, as part of the Comprehensive Area Assessment. Although CAA has been abolished, lessons have been taken from its operation and applied to inspections which now focus more on individual organisations.
In policing, recent changes involve the merger and abolition of a number of bodies, and the creation of a new national crime agency to take on the role of improving local and national police services.
Changes are also afoot in crime and disorder policy at a local level. The abolition of police authorities and the Youth Justice Board, and the conversion of local probation boards to probation trusts, are all having an effect on work in this area. From November 2012 a locally elected police commissioner will take overarching for policing within each Force area of England and Wales. This commissioner will need to work closely with other “crime and disorder partners” in the area – such as probation and local authorities – as part of the long-standing “community safety partnership” structure established in 1998.
The commissioner will be held to account by a Police and Crime Panel, which will be a scrutiny body comprised of local councillors.
Other scrutiny bodies within the criminal justice system include lay visitors to prisons (independent monitoring boards) and to police stations (independent custody visitors), which are voluntary bodies acting as independent checks on the operation of the police and prison services.