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Justice minister praises Norfolk Christian Forum

LordMcnally400Minister of Justice, Lord McNally has praised the enormously important role of the Norfolk Ecumenical Criminal Justice Forum in a speech to the group in Norwich earlier this week.
Speaking to the Forum at a meeting hosted by the Bishop of Norwich on July 26, Lord McNally (pictured right) said: “A group like yours has an enormously important role; by coming together to share experiences from your “day jobs”; by contributing to thoughtful and informed debate; and by trying to discern the best ways of helping those in your care.”
 
Addressing the forum, which brings together Christians professionally engaged in the criminal justice system, Lord McNally, said: “I welcome the fact that the Ecumenical Criminal Justice Forum provides time and space for a range of practitioners in the criminal justice system to meet to exchange views, and discuss imaginative solutions to some of the problems local people experience on a day to day basis.
 
“These are times of great challenge and change for all of us… a measure of ourselves as a just and compassionate society, is how we treat and aim to rehabilitate those who break the law,” he said.
 
Liberal Democrat Lord McNally, who is also Deputy Leader of the House of Lords, went on to address the Government’s current programme of reforms of sentencing and legal aid.
 

Sentencing and penal reform

 
Addressing sentencing and penal reforms, Lord McNally said: “I make no apology for suggesting that nothing less than a “rehabilitation revolution” will do, if we are to achieve our aims.
 
He went on to talk about the proposed concept of “working prisons” which already takes place in Norwich Prison and involves Chapelfield Shopping Centre and the Benjamin Foundation among others. Low-risk prisoners work for the community’s benefit and are rewarded with training and enhanced skills. 
 

Prisoner Reparation

 
“We are determined to set up effective reparative schemes, so that those who cause harm to their victims make amends,” said Lord McNally. “We will also place a positive duty on courts to consider making compensation orders, and extend the range of unpaid work to benefit communities.”
 

Youth Justice

 
“This is a really critical area. If we get it right, then we can look forward to making great strides in preventing young people offending… A key priority is greater flexibility in youth sentencing. At the moment, young people are subject to the so-called “escalator” principle, which sees inflexible and ever harsher penalties doled out, regardless of the criminality involved each time. Our view is that this practice should cease,” said Lord McNally.
 
“In order to break the cycle of offending, we need to be more imaginative in the range of disposals available.”
 

Restorative Justice

 
"Restorative justice has an important part to play, but only so long as it is used appropriately, and that interventions are of sufficiently high quality and there are sufficient safeguards in place for victims. Our aim is to introduce a framework for best practice at all stages in the criminal justice system,” said Lord McNally.
 
“Restorative justice is not a soft option… Many offenders find the process demanding and tough. We require offenders to take an active role in repairing harm, acknowledging the impact of what they’ve done and facing up to the consequences.”
 
“I think it’s important that groups like yours engage with us to have that debate about providing the best possible outcomes for both victims and offenders.
 
“We want to give power back to the judges and magistrates who actually hear the cases and are in the best position to deal with offenders.
 
“Only those working within local communities understand the extent to which different types of crime are prevalent, and local justice requires flexibility in the kinds of disposals that are available.
 
“For example, we will allow sentencers to make better use of treatment requirements in community sentences, so that more people can have mental health, drug and alcohol issues addressed in the community. This is tremendously important for providing cohesion in the community, where those who fall prey to addiction or to poor mental health can still be valued and treated as members of that community.”
 

Legal Aid reforms

 
“Our proposals for legal aid reform are not about abandoning the most vulnerable in our society by denying them access to legal advice if their situations demand it. At the heart of our proposals is a recognition that there will always be those who, by force of circumstance, need help with specific issues that affect them, and we are determined to protect that group of people,” said Lord McNally.
 
“Resources are scarce… We are prioritising those family cases where there is the greatest risk of harm – where cases involve domestic violence or child abuse. We are also prioritising mediation, because we think it is right that people, wherever possible, avoid going to court to settle private disputes. We expect to increase mediation funding by around £10 million a year.
 
“When it works, it draws the sting of personal animosity, of grudges, and of long-felt pain. It can have a healing effect and the power to transform people and their lives.
 
“Legal aid will be available where there is a risk to life and liberty.”
 

Competition Strategy for Offender Services

 
“Our aim is to use competition between those who provide offender services, to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of those services. A key aspect is the delivery of improved outcomes for victims, offenders and the wider community,” said Lord McNally.
 
“Our primary focus is on value for money, service reform and innovation… We intend to apply the principles of payment by results more widely.
 
"Providers will need to focus on the outcomes that really matter – reducing reoffending and crime… But if they fail to achieve reductions in reoffending, the taxpayer should not bear the cost of that failure. 
 

Conclusion

 
Dr Martin Luther King had a vision of what he called “the beloved community” – an activism that moves beyond securing individual rights to a broader understanding of building a just and compassionate society for all people,” said Lord McNally.
 
"I want to echo that vision… We function much better as a community and as a society when we pool our understanding of the complex issues that confront us.
 
“A just society is an inclusive one… It’s about achieving a cultural shift in people’s attitudes and thinking. That applies just as much to the offender as to the victim; to the criminal justice professionals as much as to the media commentators; and to faith groups and churches as much as to those of no faith.”
 
To read Lord McNally full speech, visit:
 

 


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