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Devolving Justice in practice
Crest Advisory examines justice devolution via four case studies (Avon & Somerset, Greater Manchester, London & West Mids).

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The devolution revolution?

Devolution is one of those concepts that seems straightforward but tends to be more elusive in practice. Both main political parties and broadly in favour (albeit more strongly when in opposition) but policy continues to swing towards and away from giving more powers to local people.

While Police and Crime Commissioners were obviously a huge step towards devolution in the criminal justice system, more recent policy decisions – think of the new probation service structure with its huge regions and no local accountability – have moved in the opposite direction.

A new (2 November 2023) report by Crest Advisory looks at justice devolution in practice via case studies in four areas which have had significant local autonomy for some time – Avon and Somerset, Greater Manchester, London and the West Midlands.

The case studies

I’m not going to try to do justice to four case studies in this short blog post, but it was interesting to note the different priorities that the four localities had adopted. These were:

Greater London Authority

  • Victims and Witnesses – via a devolution of pre-trial and outreach support for witnesses in London

  • Reducing reoffending – via greater influence over probation services

  • Managing vulnerable cohorts – specifically female offenders and young offenders transitioning to the adult system

  • Financial devolution – via exploring the feasibility and practicality of the full devolution of specific custody budgets.

Greater Manchester Combined Authority

  • Youth Justice Transformation

  • Smarter Justice: problem solving and family centred

  • Reforming adult offender management

  • Improving the victim journey

West Midlands Combined Authority

  • Reducing serious violence
  • Diversion for women offenders

Avon & Somerset

  • Drugs education
  • Youth Alcohol & drug diversion
  • Rehabilitation of Domestic Abuse Offenders


The Crest team (Violette Gadenne, Sophie Wilkinson & Harvey Redgrave) make the point that justice devolution isn’t easy to define in practice and that is more: 

“a spectrum of reforms from co-design, co-investment and co-commissioning at one end, to the potential for the full transfer of powers and responsibilities at the other”.

The graphic above is provided to help readers visualise this devolution spectrum.

There were two principal conclusions of the report:

  1. Concerns about creating a ‘postcode lottery’ of criminal justice outcomes had slowed the devolution process. 
  2. Areas struggled to sustain the progress they’d made because of conflicting priorities – local needs versus national policies.

It was clear that those areas who had had the most success had prioritised getting agreement early on about funding and governance structures. Crest found these agreements bring clarity around the roles, responsibilities and expectations of national and local government, helping lay strong foundations for the work that follows. Once funding and governance agreements are in place, the focus was able to switch to collaboration and partnership working to deliver local justice services. 

The report ends by arguing that the mayoral model of devolution might be the best vehicle towards further progress in devolving powers over criminal justice.

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