Joined up to face new challenges: the criminal justice system and change in the 21st century

Peter Neyroud CBE QPM
Monday, 24 September 2007

I’m going to try and look at issues around criminal justice; the linkages between policing and criminal justice and some things that have been going on - that have been going on for some time – and are just about coming to fruition, and the implications of those.  Andrew was quite right to refer to the fact that the Prime Minister was talking about increased use of hand held devices.  Well, the technology actually does make a significant change to the way that we do our jobs; it has implications for the way in which criminal justice works on the street - on the front line.

I guess I should start with the National Policing Improvement Agency, which is not yet a household name.  I’m quite grateful for that because I think if it was, I would be doing a lot more media and a lot more other things which, I think, would actually be quite a distraction, at the moment, from trying to create a new organisation. As we go through, almost all of the issues that I’m going to talk about today are things that are, actually, directly the responsibility of the agency - certainly technology in policing is. Enver mentioned neighbourhood policing; we have the lead on supporting the police service with neighbourhood policing.  Certainly hand held devices and the implications for policing would come within our brief.

You mentioned Police Community Support Officers (PCSOs).  We have the policy responsibility for PCSOs, so that made for a lively weekend, supporting people.  I also have the responsibility for health and safety, so jumping into ponds would also come within the brief, not literally, but in terms of the implications for the police service of what I think is really quite a significant profile and debate around, well, cops used to jump into ponds and save people, they’ve stopped jumping into ponds to save people, they are more concerned with being (in Ronnie Flanagan’s words) risk averse.  What does that say about the relationship with the public?  So there’s an issue running which has captured the Daily Mail view of policing, which unquestionably is quite important in terms of our relationship with the public.

But this presentation is much more about these five issues: this is, broadly speaking, my agenda.  I can’t tackle the whole of criminal justice, so I picked some things that I think illustrate areas that are developing, are likely to develop over the next period of time and are certainly ones which my own agency is engaged with.

The first issue is the increase in the number and sophistication of technologies.  One of the things that the NPIA is responsible for is databases.  For example (and we’ll come onto it) everything from the Police National Computer - and if you go back ten years ago, that was the only one we had - now I’m responsible for something like 40 databases, ranging from fingerprints to DNA to ballistics databases to dangerous offenders databases, and I could go on.  They have all been developed in response to problems.  And they are accompanied now by an increasing number of devices to make those databases connect with the front line, which I’ll come onto.

In relation to the second issue, there is a shift going on at the moment.  Over the last four or five years, possibly longer actually, but certainly over the last four or five years, the service has been -  and not just the service, the Criminal Justice System - has been very focussed on delivering higher volumes of throughput.  Higher volumes in particular around offences brought to justice.  There has been, in the minds of many professionals (me included) a neglect of the serious.  Because detecting one stolen milk bottle counts the same as detecting a murder, where do you get your points?  You get your points from, not necessarily milk bottles, but certainly in mid range, volume crime, rather than serious crime.  It is an extraordinary fact that we've never actually had, as far as I can recollect in my 27 years, a national strategy to reduce homicide.  Which, given that it is the most serious crime, seems odd - given that there is a substantial amount of research around which would tell you that you can reduce homicide.

As to the third issue, it would be an odd view of criminal justice and policing if we didn’t focus on the impact of terrorism, and I shall do.  Fourthly - and it was kind of a theme at the beginning of Labour’s time - an attention to the causes of crime as well as to the impacts of it, is, I think, a returning story, and something where, again, research gives you substantial opportunities for intervention.  Finally, I’ll look at the creation of a Ministry of Justice which, by implication, creates a very different Home Office as well.

There are, within those five issues, a number of common themes that run across.  Certainly a big one which has been very dominant is the necessity for criminal justice agencies to work together.  We keep referring to this set of organisations as a criminal justice system. It’s the most unsystematic system that anyone has ever worked in, but that is changing in a very obvious way (which I will come onto) which is, actually, if you join the system up with IT, you have to join up the business - because in order to make the IT work effectively you have to define businesses that join together and make that process work.  Then you have to get people to sit at a table and debate how the changes would impact, in a very businesslike way.  In fact, what’s happening is the technology is driving a different way of doing business.

A second theme is the balance of power between the state and the citizen.  I've got, amongst other things, an appearance (preceded by giving a set of written evidence) in front of a Home Affairs Select Committee Enquiry on the surveillance society, which, given my responsibility for a lot of the databases, is perhaps unsurprising.  But I think that the mere fact that the House of Commons is holding that enquiry (and the House of Lords is holding a similar one), is an indication of a desire to reflect on where we've come to with the balance between the state and the citizen.  Further, if you have got increased power of technology, if that is making things work faster, if that is changing the way people do their business, well what’s the impact of that on, above all, fairness – the third theme? For example, if you're gathering a lot of data within those systems around people and their criminality, what impact does that have over time?

This first slide is kind of an odd place to start, because the National Police Information Systems Strategy has not exactly been an overwhelming success -  in the sense that it’s taken ten years to deliver a case and custody system.  But the delivery of a system that’s taken an awful long time to happen is, now, just around the corner, as, in the next six months, both the Police Services Case and Custody systems will be coherently joined up, and they will also join up with the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) and with the court system - the Libra system (another one that’s taken a fair amount of time to come).  They’re late but they have now arrived.  The implication of their arrival is a substantial change in the way that agencies are joined up, in the potential capability to do things differently and, at the bottom of the slide, (and I know we keep promising it), in the potential for a reduction in the burden of administration.  That is fairly critical because things are going to get really quite tight over the course of the next period of time.  People are going to be confronted with a need to do things much, much, much more efficiently to cope with improving and delivering better volumes and quality of work. So reducing administrative burdens is not just a treasury artefact, it’s something that’s going to be incredibly important to both police and criminal justice agencies over the next period of time.  After all, at the end of the day, it’s the police service and criminal justice agencies that are competing for those resources; competing with the health service, with education etc. for an ability to show social benefits to society.  Inefficient systems are unlikely to do that.

What does Case and Custody do?  Well, in the terms of the criminal records stuff that I’m referring to, it will mean that the end-to-end process from recording arrest, through to case preparation, through to the information going into the courts, will be captured once and sent through.  Before anyone comments, we’re not quite there yet. There is still quite a long way to travel in terms of improving what we do.  But the fact that the thing will finally join up is a hugely important moment.  It forces people to do things they’ve not wanted to do for a long time, like electronic case files, like physically changing the way that you do your business.  With that comes changing relationships, and we've started to see some of that in terms of prosecutors inside police stations under the charging scheme.  We've started to see it in terms of the prosecution team behaving like a team which, from my experience at the beginning of the change to the Crown Prosecution Service, felt like it was going to be an awful long way to travel when we started out.  It has come, and it has come with some degree of enthusiasm between us in the last few years.

And the IT systems of criminal justice agencies are now joined up by the Criminal Justice Exchange.  Again, not perfect, we still have a long way to travel in many respects, but we have now got a set of linkages which allow us to work together and provide the basis for three sets of systems - police, courts and the Crown Prosecution Service - to work more closely together.  Technology as an enabler of a different way of doing business has been a long time in coming but is now here with some potential for considerable benefits.  And I think that, it having arrived, those benefits actually - when the process does finally switch on and we start to see the various bits and pieces actually happening - will force a change in the way that we organise ourselves and a change of approach to each other.  So, we've got some experiments running in Warwickshire where the three main services, and a range of other services that support the system, are physically coming together in the same building and trying to confront some of the issues about working together in different ways, whilst at the same time remaining independent in the way each does their part of the process.

The need for independence presents issues around the governance, the oversight and the professional standards for the system, because if the courts have got to result cases - rather than the police doing by getting a piece of paper from the courts and therefore taking a load of time doing it - courts need to work to a high standard, they need to own the information they’ve got in the court system, they need to understand what colleagues at the other end of the system need to know about a case.  They need to understand what they put into a resulting database could well end up being used in a vetting process, which needs to be accurate.  It could well end up being used to prevent risk in another part of the system; this is an organic system that’s joined up, it’s not just a series of independent separate enterprises.

And this next system which I will talk about takes that onto the next stage.  Originally set up very much to answer the recommendations of the Bichard Enquiry, the IMPACT programme has, as it were, moved onto a next stage.  It’s moved on from, as it were, dealing with vetting and resolving the challenges arising out of Soham, to providing a genuine join-up between different police information systems; the connected systems of some 60 or so agencies that are either directly part of the criminal justice space or connected to the policing space.  Whether it be the Royal Military Police, who police the services, or whether it be agencies in the Department for Education and Science (or the two bits that it’s split into) dealing with the protection of children.  This is about 18 months away from happening.

IMPACT is one of the major programmes that my agency is running.  It will bring a system, across the whole of the criminal justice system, where there is, as it were, a golden nominal, from which you can pull data from a whole range of other databases.  It provides not just vetting but a fantastic operational tool.  But it also clearly has a huge impact on what the police service knows, for example, about any individual that they're doing a stop search on, which, again, I think, is the more controversial end of policing when we’re out on the street.  It allows us to have knowledge of exactly what contact we've had with that individual through a whole series of operational systems.  And, as it says at the bottom of the slide there, the ultimate goal of the Impact Programme is the development of a police national database.  A police national database to bring together those 30 or 40 databases that are currently sitting separated.  One of the things I’m concerned that we get ahead of is having open, public governance of the collection of databases coming together, because most of these databases are not openly publicly governed; they are treated as databases operating within policing rather than something that has a huge public impact.
We’re also putting together a facial images database which will add facial images to fingerprints, to the genetic information on the DNA database, to the data that we've got on people - addresses and names and locations on the IMPACT database - , which means that, goodness, the state knows an awful lot about you, potentially.  The question, then, is making sure that it’s accurate, it’s used appropriately and it’s governed properly.

I think that Gordon Brown was referring to this in his speech today: fingerprints are going out of the police station and onto the street.  We've piloted this system, Lantern, in ten forces.  It has an upside and it has a downside.  The upside is that there are no more arguments: if you're on the database there are no more arguments about identity.  Once you put your finger into this system, it’s extremely likely that you are the person the system says you are.  In terms of stop and search, where there are often uncertainties about who you're dealing with on the street, this has huge advantages in making sure the police don’t make false arrests or don’t make arrests on the basis that they don’t know who somebody is or they're not clear or certain about it.  The downside is that it clearly has potential challenges around the fact that those that are in the database are the same group of people, as it were, the usual suspects, the ones that we've arrested. This makes it more important that entry points into databases are properly and carefully controlled.  But broadly speaking it does what it says on the tin; it will give you access to somebody’s identity within five minutes on the street.

And finally on databases, it was the case until ten years ago that your primary means of forensic detection was fingerprints.  That was accelerated with automatic fingerprinting databases.  The DNA database, at that stage - when I was a senior investigating officer - was something you only used in the most high profile and the most expensive cases.  Now it is a tool in the vast majority of volume crime investigation.  And having read carefully through the report of the Nuffield Council of Bioethics, which was published last week on the DNA database, there’s a substantial endorsement, despite some of their concerns around who is and who isn’t on the database, of the use of DNA for detecting crime, and a desire to see more DNA collected from more scenes, to go to be compared with the database.  Incidentally, it is often claimed that we have the largest DNAD in the world. Actually, we are kind of neck-and-neck with the FBI in terms of whether we are or aren’t the largest. We are working quite closely with them to look at the implications in two societies that have quite different views of how a database operates.  DNA technology is moving on to the extent that, just as we've moved fingerprints out into the street, we may be in a position to move DNA out into the street with mobile DNA profiling.

There is now a platform that we call Livescan, in every single police station. The whole process of identity management and the way in which we deal with people in the police station has been transformed in one of those 55 pieces of legislation that Enver referred to in his introduction.  Up until three or four years ago you did identity management at the end of the process, you now do it at the beginning, so your identity becomes an incredibly important part of your entry into the system.  Verifying that, making sure that we've got no replicas of people, making sure that we know who people are and have tracked their history effectively, has become an extraordinarily important part of investigation and an extraordinarily important part of tracking people through the system.

That’s an awful lot of technology, most of which has arrived in the last ten years.  I had a little map that I keep in my diary which reminds me of the bits that I’m responsible for.  If you go back ten years that map was simply one database.  Now, as I said, we’re talking 40.  These have undoubtedly contributed to policing: you can look at the results of the DNA database, for example, in terms of crime detection and in terms of its effect on the ways in which we investigate. Technology has undoubtedly contributed to the efficiency and productivity of policing - particularly if you add in databases like the automatic number plate recognition system.  But there’s no doubt at all from the debates that are running at the moment that, firstly, there’s a huge level of misunderstanding of what, for example, we do with the DNA database - there is a huge amount of misunderstanding around genetics, which I think the Nuffield report properly highlights. People’s understanding of what we do with some of this stuff is misty in some places and certainly needs to be better informed.  We have made changes to the DNA database, in terms of adding independent public governance.  We have an independent ethics committee for the DNAD, and the DNA database board operates in a public way.  But, there is no doubt that with DNA (and you only have to look at the coverage of the Madeleine McCann case to realise just how controversial DNA, its use and its deployment can be when those issues are aired in public) it is very important for there to be effective governance, for there to be high standards, and for those standards to be openly understood across the system and by the public.

Looking at and changing some of the priorities for policing and criminal justice presents additional challenges to the issues I’ve talked about so far. As I said earlier on, one thing we've been very focussed on is counter terrorism work.  Those of you that have read Sir Ronnie Flanagan’s report, or heard about some of the main points through coverage of the report in the media, will know that we have also been incredibly focussed on increasing the number of crimes for which an offender is brought to justice to 1.25 million. i.e. on getting the numbers through the system.  Sir Ronnie’s report, broadly speaking, said that this probably has gone far enough, in the sense that just taking volume through the system is not an end in itself.  It’s important for productivity, but it’s not the end in itself.  For a number of us working in this space, the professional view is that the one area in which we have not improved significantly over the last period of time - over the last ten years - is raising our level of performance in relation to the most serious crimes.  I mean, serious sexual assault, for example; levels of detection and levels of performance in that territory have not improved anything like as fast - they’ve improved, but nothing like as fast - as improvements in levels of detections generally.  I mentioned homicide. Homicide has edged up over the course of the last period of time, yet we haven’t got, or have not had, an overt homicide reduction strategy.  And you will have seen, and will know, the level of concern around gangs, guns and knives; around relatively small geographical areas of the country which have a disproportionately high level of concern and activity around that territory.

So what’s going to happen in the next three years?  Well, I’m kind of giving you an educated guess that there will be a stronger emphasis on serious and violent crime over the next period of time.  That, in itself, is a challenge because - sitting as I do on the sentencing guidelines council - inevitably, any amount of extra effort that you put into dealing with serious and violent crime has a potentially significant effect on a prison system that is already substantially under pressure. Particularly with indeterminate sentencing; there could be a very significant impact if you’re arresting many more people for serious offences (who could, potentially, receive such sentences).  So balancing out the effect of inputs into the system, with ensuring effectiveness at the front end of the system is a difficult balance.

There’s no doubt that a shift in priority towards more serious crime would emphasise the use of the databases, the use of the forensic techniques and the use of covert techniques in some areas of business. It will have a substantial impact on the way the police go about their business.  It is certainly already having an impact in terms of the police service gearing up to deal with risk. I think that a theme which runs through changes to policing is that we are increasingly seeing policing in terms of two territories: neighbourhood, where we’re dealing with volume crime and anti-social behaviour, and national, where we’re dealing with a series of well understood national risks and we’re seeking to focus on the ones that are sitting at the forefront.

Terrorism is right up there in terms of the challenges facing policing; it is an ever present risk. I think the key thing is to see terrorism as a criminal act and deal with it as such, because it is, basically, a criminal activity.  It is susceptible to the same preventative and investigative strategies as other forms of crime. We have developed an expertise in investigating terrorism that has been drawn from the very best of, as it were, general criminal investigative practice.  If you do not respond to terrorism in a way that is based upon criminality (as opposed to viewing terrorism as a special and separate form of wrong), you’re going to miss the fact that terrorism needs to be dealt with using exactly the same techniques.  In fact, from my point of view, the hugely controversial debate around pre charge detention is not a debate - from my point of view - about the State trying to advance the boundaries of its influence in terms of dealing with a citizen.  It is about trying to ensure that as many cases as possible, if not all cases of terrorism, are dealt with as a core criminal offence, subjected to the full investigative process, open to scrutiny, open to judicial oversight, and, fundamentally, that the rule of law is the thing that triumphs in dealing with terrorism, and not anything else.  And I guess, for me, the lesson from 20 or 30 years ago in Northern Ireland, about trying to deal with terrorism outside those bounds, is that it is an utterly disastrous way, and encourages people to come forward and be terrorists in the future.  Developing a strategy which deals with terrorism preventatively, which deploys techniques which are fundamentally the same as we use to in other areas of policing, and which deals with terrorism through the criminal justice system, is a huge challenge.  A huge challenge for each part of the criminal justice system.  Just look at the capacity of the system to deal with counter-terrorism and the sheer number of cases that are waiting for trial; that alone is a significant challenge for the system.

I move on to talk about addressing the causes of crime.  One of the debates within criminal justice over the last period of time has been, well, you did one thing about dealing with crime but you didn’t do the other one, which was dealing with the causes of crime.  I think this is perhaps a slightly unfair accusation, but there’s no doubt of the importance of a longer-term focus on a number of strategies to reduce the causes of crime.  One strategy that’s been running for quite some time, with some degree of success, and some degree of substantial evaluation, is the prolific and priority offender strategy.  The challenge with this strategy is it had a slightly unpromising beginning, when it was a strategy for targeting just so many people; these people were really not the priority offenders; there was far too many of them, There was also far too little knowledge, or application of the knowledge, in terms of what worked best; it’s all very well identifying a pool of offenders, but you actually need to be really careful about selecting ones that things are going to work with.  If you’re applying techniques which are fairly intrusive, to someone for whom that particular technique is not going to work, not only is it a waste of money but is it also an intrusion of their liberties.  So use the things that work with the people that it will work with.  Use the techniques where we've got some proven sense that it will work.  And above all keep evaluating it.  And perhaps one message across this whole field - which is very much again part of my agency’s approach -  is for God’s sake learn as you go and be prepared to change and adapt as you go. Because, with each of these strategies - prolific and priority offender, drugs intervention programme, and early intervention with young people - we have learnt as we've gone. There are a whole load of things that we are carrying on measuring or doing that probably don’t work that well and would be far better off dropped, and resources focused on the things that we can do.  And I think over the next period of time if we can see more evidence-based approaches put into terrorism, and more robust debates around the effectiveness of particular strategies, we would be a lot better.  And I think we’re going to have to have those debates, given the tightness of budgets.

The creation of the Ministry of Justice means that we’re working within a very, very different framework. Sat inside the machinery, as a chief executive of an agency that’s a ‘non departmental public body’ – horrible phrase – but an agency which is working inside the Home Office, within the governance of the police service, with a Board which consists of chiefs, chairs of police authorities and only one Home Office representative, I’ve watched this change with interest. I think it will have much bigger implications for the future than has been indicated by the nature of the debate that’s surrounded it.  We now have an extremely different Home Office.  It’s a Home Office that’s really focused on policing and risk - and the risk in these cases is terrorism, the more serious end of crime, immigration and asylum, together with identity - and a Ministry of Justice focused on the criminal justice system and reducing reoffending.  Now, I think if we’d not had a national Criminal Justice Board before this split took place to provide the glue between these two departments – a place for the two parts to meet and to work out coherent joint strategies, jointly chaired by the two Secretaries for State - this split would have been quite difficult to manage.  The fact that we've got one means that we've got a place to have the debate, and a space for the Ministry of Justice and the Home Office teams, together with other parts of the criminal justice system and connected interests, to actually meet, to debate and to openly share practice.  But they are two very different enterprises than the enterprises that were there before.  And even in the debates that we've had thus far, an organisation in the Ministry of Justice focused on the criminal justice system has got a very, very different feel compared to an organisation that’s got everything from policing through to immigration within its brief.

So what about the next five years?  Let me just try and summarise where I think we’re going and what I think are some of the challenges for the future.  We have seen this enormous increase in the number and sophistication of technologies.  However most of the stuff that we’re using, and I’m standing in a BT building, most of the stuff that we’re using is not cutting edge as far as the technology that’s out there.  We’re not dealing with the, as it were, iPhone technology, in half the cases.  We’re actually dealing with technology that was there ten years ago and has taken us a while to import.  It’s not the sophistication of technologies, in a sense, that’s making the really big change; it’s the fact that in order to maximise the benefits of it we've actually got to work together so closely and understand each other so much better, in order to get the thing to work better.  So in some ways the technology, I think, forces us to work better together and therefore the opportunities over the course of the next three or four years are for a criminal justice system which operates differently.  We've got some pegs in the ground already in place.  Local Criminal Justice Boards, which are kind of a mixed bag, but they're nevertheless a local enterprise that brings together, in a way that wasn’t there before, the heads of local agencies.  And having been the Chair of a local Criminal Justice Board for three years,  I think that there are huge opportunities from that coming together. 

Also in the next 5 years, we have the higher priority to be afforded to serious crime.  Well, actually, that is about the police service understanding that it has got to make a choice between a range of things that it has to keep ticking over, and some things it has to do significantly better on.  And it has to have a debate with its public about how it does that.  The continuing threat from terrorism has the ability to blow all of this off course.  A really catastrophic attack would have a really catastrophic impact on all of the aforementioned.  And thinking ahead to the end of the three to five envelope, of course, we’ll be dealing with the Olympics which, from every aspect, is a huge challenge, not just in terms of national pride in delivering Olympics but national pride in keeping the world safe whilst they're visiting us.

Attention to the causes of crime, I think, is very much about being very, very focused on what works - during a five year period where budgets aren’t going to get any bigger than they have been in the course of the last period of time.   The last period of time has been one, in my service, of completely unprecedented growth, both in policing and investment in policing.  It isn't going to happen again in the next three years.

The creation of the Ministry of Justice is a very, very different paradigm to work within, where you have got a balance between, as it were, the more traditional Ministry of the Interior type approach and the more, in European terms, traditional Ministry of Justice.  And that dichotomy has got a little way to play out, I think.  What I and the NPIA bring to this picture is being the police service’s centre, in terms of a national support agency for the police service for the very first time.  One agency.  It’s the first time we've actually had the N word in front of policing in the UK.  That in itself has some interesting constitutional implications, which are just working their way out, in terms of building a relationship with 43 local police agencies, and also in terms of recognising that there are some things that you can best do from within the police service.  And that’s that balance that we’re trying to work out between us; the clarity of the relationship.

And I hope, by having one agency, it does offer us the opportunity to be forward looking, to actually think about the risks that are going to be hitting us in four or five years time, rather than just responding to the next initiative and the next thing that we've got to tackle, and the next problem, the next challenge, the next crisis, the next set of recommendations from a report. It might give us the opportunity to actually try and shape some of those rather than just be behind the curve.  And as for the culture of continuous improvement?  One of my colleagues said, ‘I find this quite challenging, I’m not sure that I’ve got the cash, the resources or the capability to continuously improve everything’ and I said, ‘well, it’d be very strange if you tried to continuously improve everything’.  What we've got to try and do is to find the things that really matter to the public, that we’re really not doing that well, and focus on those things, whilst keeping the other balls and the other plates in the air over the course of the next period of time.

It’s a challenging agenda and I’m happy to take whatever questions that you have around that agenda.

Thank you.