"Prisoners and Criminal Proceedings (Scotland) Act 1993 (c. 9)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 1:00 am on 14th October 2003.

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Photo of Lord Bassam of Brighton Lord Bassam of Brighton Government Whip, Government Whip 1:00 am, 14th October 2003

We well understand the amendment tabled by the noble Baroness and the concerns that have prompted it with the demise of the statutory probation liaison committees following the introduction of the Criminal Justice and Court Services Act 2000.

However, I assure the noble Baroness that joint working continues to be a priority for the National Probation Service. These arrangements were put in place and cemented in guidance issued last year by the probation service, the Lord Chancellor's Department, the Magistrates' Association, the Justices' Clerks' Society and the Association of Justices' Chief Executives and entitled, Working Together—The National Probation Service and the Courts. That guidance promotes communication, understanding and mutual confidence between the courts and the probation service and emphasises that joint working imposes a number of obligations on sentences and probation staff to achieve these ends. It suggests that something like the old probation liaison committees could provide a forum to review working jointly and to plan future events to lead and improve such work.

The purpose of joint working is to achieve better outcomes for all areas in the criminal justice system. This forms part of a wider, long-term communication strategy for sentencers developed by the National Probation Directorate, which aims to engage sentencers both at the local and national level with the work of the probation service. Elements of this include meetings and direct contact with sentencers, the production of information leaflets and videos on new initiatives and seminars and conferences.

Surveys are also being conducted on sentencers as well as the general public to research perceptions of the probation service and its work with offenders, and the issues raised by those will inform future priorities.

We have also set up the new local criminal justice boards, which were introduced in April this year. They bring together the CPS, courts, prison, probation and police services, magistrates and youth offending teams and encourage joint working toward a set of common aims and targets.

The probation service has also developed closer links with the local community. The modernisation of the service has made it more responsive to local needs. The new local probation boards have a more diverse membership and are more closely representative of those local needs. The boards are accountable for delivering a service that reflects local concerns.

The introduction of crime and disorder reduction partnerships has placed a joint duty on local authorities and the police to work in co-operation with other agencies, including the probation service, to formulate and implement a crime and disorder strategy for their area. The partnerships are required to undertake an audit of crime and disorder in their area and to liaise widely with the community on the results to verify that they have identified people's real problems. They then develop and implement a strategy to tackle priority problems.

The need for strong and effective liaison between probation, sentencers and the local community is well understood and taken, but the arrangements that we have identified effectively meet that need. For those reasons, although the new clause is well meaning, it is unnecessary, because we have the appropriate networks and joint working arrangements in place, as I described. I hope that with that, the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw her amendment.