Monday, 16 July 2012

Swift and Sure: Has Flashman come up with "flash incarceration"

Nick Herbert MP
I am not a Monday morning person!  (The song Rainy Days and Mondays comes to mind).  This morning I noticed The Guardian's article - "Government outlines plans for fast-track justice" - saying that the government had set out more plans for criminal justice and that there will be "Flash incarceration" of offenders who breach court orders, widespread naming online of those convicted, more witnesses giving evidence via videolink and Sunday court sittings.

Whether this is old wine in new bottles remains to be seen though it cannot be doubted that, despite various criminal justice "initiatives" over recent years, some cases take far too long to come to trial and too many fail to proceed on the day set for trial.  There is a good case for being more focused and getting matters dealt with a swiftly as possible provided that fundamentals of a fair trial are not compromised.  This is fully recognised by the judiciary - see, for example, Early Guilty Plea Scheme.

The White Paper is entitled - "Swift and Sure Justice: the government's plans for reform of the criminal justice system." See Ministry of Justice and the White Paper (pdf).

Having just glanced
at the White Paper, I would not make too much of the catchy phrase "flash
incarceration" though it certainly has a ring of swift and sure" punishment about it.  The term is used in the USA and is a way of dealing rapidly with those who are released from prison but who breach their terms of release.  They can be "flash incarcerated" for up to 10 days.  The White Paper does not refer to it but it appeared (once) in Nick Herbert's speech launching the White Paper.

In the Foreword to the White Paper, Nick Herbert said: "Swift justice is in the interests of victims, witnesses and the public. It happened in response to last summer’s disorder. Police, prosecutors and courts worked together – and offenders were brought to justice within days, sometimes even hours."  The government wishes to "normalise" this approach so that "justice is routinely swift and sure."

Magistrates may acquire a new role.  Mr Herbert said: "The lay magistracy is one of the most important assets in our criminal justice system and we should greatly value their role. I want to give magistrates new roles and responsibilities, including to oversee the use of out-of-court disposals and support the new Neighbourhood Justice Panels."

No doubt, we shall return to the White Paper in due course.  Meanwhile, in fairness to the government (whose leader has been lampooned as "Flashman" - a reference to the character in Tom Brown's Schooldays), let us settle down and give the paper a good reading and consideration.

CharonQC on Flash Incarceration and other nonsense

Nick Herbert MP (Minister of State for Police and Criminal Justice)

BBC Interview with Nick Herbert

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