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Criminal Justice in the United Kingdom, 2010 to 2015: The UK Justice Policy Review and the Coalition Years

Updated Friday, 3rd July 2015
The first part of Richard Garside's speech to the Open University Scotland event: The coalition years and the Scottish dimension.

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Richard Garside First a few remarks about the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies. The Centre is an independent, non-partisan charity. This means that we are not politically aligned, whether formally or informally. Our purpose is to advance public understand of criminal justice and social harm. We also have a strategic partnership with the  Open University through the International Centre for Comparative Criminological Research.

I want to start my remarks with a contrast. One third of the entire territorial extent of the United Kingdom is the responsibility of a single territorial police force. The remaining two thirds of the UK is under a further 44 police forces. The one police force is, of course, Police Scotland. The further 44 forces are the Police Service of Northern Ireland and the 43 English and Welsh police forces. Why is this the case? Why are policing arrangements so markedly different across the UK? This is one of the questions that motivated the Centre to produce the report I am speaking about this evening: The coalition years.

About the UK Justice Policy Review project

The coalition years developed out of the work the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies has been doing since the 2010 General Election, under the auspices of the UK Justice Policy Review project.

Through this project we have been tracking criminal justice developments across the United Kingdom. To date, we have published three annual reports, covering the periods May 2010 to 2011, May 2011 to 2012, and May 2012 to 2013. We will be publishing the fourth annual report, covering the period May 2013 to 2014 next month.

We currently have plans to produce these annual reports, and to organise annual UK Justice Policy Review conferences, right through to 2020.

It is important to emphasise the UK in UK Justice Policy Review. The United Kingdom has three criminal justice jurisdictions: the combined jurisdiction of England and Wales, and the separate jurisdictions of Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Much discussion, certainly among Westminster policy, lobbying and media circles tends to focus on criminal justice developments in England and Wales. At best this leads to a partial picture of criminal justice developments across the United Kingdom. At worse it tends towards a rather narrow parochialism. It is assumed that criminal justice developments in England and Wales are somehow representative of developments across the United Kingdom, or that developments in Scotland and Northern Ireland are of no great interest at a United Kingdom level.

A key purpose of the UK Justice Policy Review project is to describe criminal justice developments across the United Kingdom’s three jurisdictions, drawing out where they are diverging, where they are converging, and where they are just different.

About The coalition years

Description is one thing and is an important task. Explanation is something else. With The coalition years we aim to explain the divergent and convergent criminal justice developments across the United Kingdom since the last General Election, rather than simply seeking to describe them.

The underlying theme of The coalition years is this: that criminal justice reform is, at heart a political project. We take seriously the different political contexts of criminal justice reform in the UK’s three criminal justice jurisdictions, using these to explain why, for instance, we ended up with elected, local Police and Crime Commissioners in England and Wales and a single national police force, overseen by an appointed board, in Scotland. Why probation remained a public service in Northern Ireland and Scotland during this period while it was being privatised in England and Wales.

In The coalition years we do not attempt a comprehensive account of everything that happened in United Kingdom’s three criminal justice jurisdictions since 2010. That is a task for historians. Instead, we simplify a much more complex reality, foregoing a comprehensive account of all developments in the interests of gaining a general understanding of the underlying movements. We do this in two ways.

First, we focus on signal criminal justice developments in the areas of policing, punishment and legal aid. Across the three criminal justice jurisdictions there was major activity in the areas of police reform, prisons and community supervision, and the provision of criminal legal aid. We examine how criminal justice in these three areas developed in sometimes convergent, often divergent, ways.

Second, we seek to explain developments by reference to the distinctive underlying political priorities in each jurisdiction.

  • In England and Wales, the government championed a competitive market in criminal justice services.
  • In Scotland, the government placed the state, rather than the market, at the centre of criminal justice delivery.
  • In Northern Ireland, the Executive sought to develop inclusive criminal justice arrangements less marked by their historic role in counter-terrorism.

These distinctive political approaches – the market in England and Wales; the state in Scotland; civil society in Northern Ireland – played a significant role in shaping the different approaches to criminal justice reform in the three jurisdictions.

So what happened and why? Here I am going to limit my remarks to England, Wales and Scotland, and to three themes: austerity, policing and probation. There is much more detail, including analysis of developments in Northern Ireland, and in relation to prisons and legal aid, in the full report.

Next: Austerity, Policing and Probation


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