The policing and criminal justice minister Nick Herbert has announced a shift in government policy towards criminal justice, backing proposals to modernise the way the justice system handles crime and criminals, and putting the emphasis on transparency and efficiency.
The proposals are part of a government white paper entitled 'Swift and Sure Justice'. The paper backs the use of technology in the criminal justice system and announces plans to deal with less serious offences in a matter of hours.
Mr Herbert likened the state's current role in the treatment of offenders to that of a bad parent, who tolerates misbehaviour too many times and then overreacts when the child continues to demonstrate the behaviour that was tolerated previously.
"As well as dealing with defendants swiftly, we need to get a proper grip on them, taking the right action to prevent them sliding into ever more serious crimes," Mr Herbert said last week.
At the launch of the paper, Mr Herbert described a culture of delay which invades the criminal justice system at all levels, and used the example of a common assault case to highlight inefficiency. In such a case, 53 separate processes have been identified which must be carried out to bring a known offender to justice. This takes approximately 15 weeks, when the combined total of all work involved is just 6 hours.
"Justice must be swift, sure and seen to be done, or it's not done at all," said Mr Herbert, adding: "It can be too concerned with defendants and too little concerned about victims."
Victim-support groups welcomed the proposals, saying that too often justice was slow to access and that this had a negative effect on both victims and witnesses.
The Law Society was more cautious, however, saying that speed and efficiency were not the same thing. Richard Atkinson is the chairman of the Law Society's criminal law committee.
"We question whether there is any need for weekend courts at a time when the numbers of criminal cases are declining and when these proposals will cause problems for prisons and the availability of other professionals in the system," he said.
Ministers call for 'swift justice' (Google / Press Association)