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Russell Webster

Russell Webster

Criminal Justice & substance misuse expert and author of this blog.

Local criminal justice partnerships in disarray

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This lack of focus, combined with the lack of co-terminosity, tension between national and local accountabilities and continuous cuts in resources means that LCJPs are unlikely to function effectively in their common form and called for a new vision for partnership working.

Local criminal justice partnerships

A recent (22 October 2015) joint inspection of local criminal justice partnerships by the police, CPS and probation inspectorates (HMIC, HMCPSI and HMI Probation) found:

Limited evidence that local criminal justice partnerships are making a positive difference

Local criminal justice partnerships (LCJPs) are non-statutory bodies whose purpose is to contribute to improving the efficiency and effectiveness of the criminal justice system at a local level, by bringing together the right partners – such as the police, CPS and the Courts – at the right time, agreeing shared priorities and working collectively.

This inspection conducted fieldwork in six forces and examined the results of a survey to assess how LCJPs work, and whether they make a difference.

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Findings

The report organised its findings into four main sections:

  • Geographical spread and membership
  • Priorities
  • Impact; and
  • Barriers to successful partnership working

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Geographical spread and membership

The core membership of LCJPs was consistent across England and Wales and comprised the police, CPS, Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS), and the PCC (or a member of the PCC’s staff). Just over four fifths of the partnerships also included probation services (both the National Probation Service (NPS) and CRCs), youth offending services, the voluntary and community sector and Her Majesty’s Prison Service.

Those interviewed by the inspectors said that, generally, the right people with the right level of authority to make decisions on the part of their agency, were attending LCJP boards. However, there was a tension between local autonomy and national requirements, which agencies found difficult to reconcile.

One recurrent issue was that in many cases the area covered by the LCJP was not co-terminous with that of other criminal justice agencies; which, the inspectors felt, called into question the very nature of the term ‘local’ in this context.

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Priorities

LCJPs are expected to bring agencies together with a common purpose to make the CJS more efficient and effective at a local level. Inspectors therefore expected each LCJP to have a set of agreed priorities that all agencies were working towards. However, they found little evidence of this:

Few areas had considered, collectively, what mattered most in their local areas. Where they had, this was not on the basis of a robust assessment of risk, threat or harm, and there were few examples of public consultation and engagement.

In addition, inspectors found that LCJPs could offer little assurance that those priorities they had in place were clearly understood and owned by all partners. For instance, in three of the six areas visited, inspectors found that agencies had agreed priorities which were very high level, with no tangible links to programmes of work to achieve the desired outcomes.

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Impact

Disappointingly, inspectors found limited evidence that LCJPs were making a positive difference. Where they did find progress, it was principally in relation to national programmes. However, this tended to be achieved by individual agencies working either discretely or bilaterally, rather than within the context of the wider partnership arrangements.

Inspectors also found that the ability of LCJPs to demonstrate the benefits of collaborative working was constrained by the absence of an agreed framework for measuring success and managing performance.

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Barriers to successful partnership working

Inspectors found a broad consensus that the main barriers to establishing more effective local arrangements are fundamental differences in the drivers, structures, objectives and success criteria of the principal criminal justice agencies, which were seen as inconsistent and misaligned. They give a number of examples:

  • Structures – the police service operates in a devolved structure, where performance targets have, to a large extent, been withdrawn and replaced by a single aim to reduce crime. Police forces are held to account locally by PCCs. By contrast, HMCTS, CPS, and the NPS are national organisations, accountable at national level with standard operating practices, performance measures and regional structures which are not coterminous, either with one another or with police force areas.
  • Success criteria for individual agencies are not always reinforced with other agencies. The aim of making efficient use of court buildings can, in practice, undermine the aim of supporting and encouraging victims of crime to participate in the system. When courts are closed, victims may have to travel long distances to attend hearings, which may affect their willingness or ability to support the criminal justice process.
  • Criminal justice agencies measure and record success differently, making it difficult to track progress. The police measure current cases, whereas both the CPS and HMCTS measure cases which have reached a conclusion. This makes meaningful comparison difficult.

Where inspectors did find initiatives designed to overcome these obstacles, they tended to operate at a regional rather than local level.

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Conclusions and recommendations

In short, inspectors found that LCJPs weren’t working:

We saw little evidence that LCJPs were visible, accountable and influential bodies leading work to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the CJS at a local level and achieving tangible results.

The inspectors did not blame local agencies for this situation but said that the role of LCJPs is not clearly defined centrally. They argue that this lack of focus, combined with the lack of co-terminosity,  tension between national and local accountabilities and continuous cuts in resources means that LCJPs are unlikely to function effectively in their common form and called for a new vision for partnership working.

The inspectors called for leaders of the different criminal justice agencies:

To provide greater clarity and direction, pace and purpose to inter-agency working at local, regional and national level.

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