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 (CAA). Although CAA has been abolished, lessons have been taken from its operation and applied to inspections which now focus more on individual organisations again.
In policing, recent changes involve the merger and abolition of a number of bodies, such as the merger between the Crown Prosecution Service and the Revenue and Customs Prosecution Office, and the creation of a new national crime agency to take on the role of improving local and national police services.
Changes have also been afoot in crime and disorder policy at a local level, with the abolition of police authorities and the Youth Justice Board, and the conversion of local probation boards to probation trusts. Since November 2012 a locally elected police commissioner is overseeing policing within each Force area of England and Wales. This commissioner works 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 is held to account by a Police and Crime Panel, which is a scrutiny body comprised mostly of local councillors (find out more under Policing).
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.