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Criminal justice system set to undergo significant reform 5 April 2013

THE Isle of Man’s criminal justice system is set to undergo significant reform as part of the drive to make it better, faster, simpler and more cost efficient.

The focus is on implementing measures contained in the Isle of Man Criminal Justice Strategy, which was received by Tynwald in December 2012 after gaining broad support during a public consultation. Work is being led by the Criminal Justice Board, comprising the heads of the Department of Home Affairs, Isle of Man Constabulary, General Registry, Attorney General’s Chambers, and the Prison and Probation Service, together with representation from the Law Society.

The intention is to achieve major improvements over the next five years by modernising processes, streamlining administration and reducing the number of low-level offences appearing before the courts. The Criminal Justice Strategy sets out a clear direction of travel for the criminal justice system in line with Government’s priorities of rebalancing public finances, growing the economy and protecting vulnerable members of the community.

Key policy areas are identified for improvement, including prevention of crime, an appropriate response when crime is committed, and rehabilitation of offenders to reduce future offending. Alternative approaches to sentencing, such as restorative justice and the extended use of fixed penalties, will now be explored along with measures to make the criminal justice system more transparent and accountable. The Board has also been tasked with delivering a common set of objectives to improve quality and reduce lead times in such areas as preparing files to go to court, reducing the time taken to prosecute cases and reducing the amount of form filling between agencies.

Home Affairs Minister Juan Watterson MHK, who was asked by the Chief Minister to produce the Criminal Justice Strategy, launched a public consultation in October 2012 which generated 69 responses and constructive feedback on many of the recommendations.

Mr Watterson said:

‘Reform of the criminal justice system is a massive undertaking which has the potential to deliver significant improvements and efficiencies. The principles outlined within the Criminal Justice Strategy have been broadly supported by the public and as we move towards the implementation of a number of the initiatives, the views received during the consultation will be considered in our discussions. The questions regarding greater accountability, prison being reserved for serious and persistent offenders, appropriate use of fixed penalty notices and performance reporting were positively received. The issue of legal aid and its sustainability requires further consideration in conjunction with Treasury. The majority of responses were supportive of the provision of legal aid, but with varied opinions as to how this can be sustained.’

The public consultation generated discussion over the involvement of victims and witnesses in the criminal process, and the need to ensure that the fairness and impartiality of the courts is upheld. The issue of community justice also led to comments about the potential for matters to be dealt with differently in different areas, and Mr Watterson said further consideration would be given to how, and if, this issue would be progressed.

The Minister said:

‘The Isle of Man enjoys low crime and high detection rates and is undoubtedly one of the safest places to live in the British Isles. The strategy we are working on now provides an opportunity to make significant improvements and ensure the Manx criminal justice system is fit for purpose for the next 20 years.’

The summary of responses to the public consultation on the Criminal Justice Strategy is available on the government website here

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