Redesigning Community Justice in Scotland?

Katrina MorrisonKatrina Morrison is a lecturer in criminology at Edinburgh Napier University.

‘Redesigning Community Justice’ is the latest in a long list of reforms which have sought to organise the administration and delivery of community justice in Scotland. As I have argued elsewhere (Morrison 2015), all of the previous reforms have grappled in some way with improving the legitimacy and status of community justice, and with the competing tensions between central and local control. An examination of the latest set of reforms reveal that these issues continue to dominate community justice in Scotland, and it is questionable whether, as they stand, the latest proposals will offer much of an improvement on the current arrangements.

In May 2015, legislation aimed at reforming the structures of community justice delivery in Scotland was published as part of the Redesigning Community Justice agenda. This follows the decision at the end of 2013 to disband Community Justice Authorities (CJAs), the existing bodies which oversee the delivery of community justice. The Community Justice (Scotland) Bill seeks to create a new national body, Community Justice Scotland, which will be a strategic body providing oversight, monitoring performance, and promoting awareness of community justice. The delivery of community justice will remain under local authority control, but its administration will be handed over to Community Planning Partnerships (CPPs), existing bodies which co-ordinate a range of services including those relating to health, housing, education, employment and community safety delivered by public, private, voluntary and third sector organisations.

New National Body

There is a recognition that the system of community justice needs an increased status and a more unified ‘voice’, which can be heard at the top table along with other national bodies such as the SPS, Police Scotland, the Scottish Court Service and so on. Currently, there is no one point of contact (or indeed accountable organisation or individual), for community justice, and the creation of Community Justice Scotland would aim to change that. The existence of a central body, albeit one with more of a strategic overview than operational responsibility, also has greater potential to be able to drive forward change, and is therefore more attractive from the perspective of central government ‘command and control’. The government have stated that they want the principles of desistance theory to be embedded into community justice at a strategic level. Incorporating this into the new National Strategy, but more importantly into actual practice, will be one of the key tasks for the service in the future and would be made easier with the existence of the new national body. However, local authorities have already indicated they will do what they can to limit the power and scope of Community Justice Scotland, and it remains to be seen to what extent the Justice Department responds to this pressure as the Bill progresses.

Local Authority Delivery

If the need for increased status, a unified ‘voice’, and the ability to drive forward meaningful change in a uniform way, all imply the need for some sort of central presence and control, there are concurrent pressures towards keeping the service organised locally. Repeated attempts at reform over the decades have been motivated to a large extent by a frustration on the part of the Scottish Government (and before them, the Scottish Office), to exert more leverage over a local authority controlled service amidst concerns around efficiency, coordination, and the legitimacy of the service in the eyes of sentencers and the public. Perhaps the fact the recent reforms have fallen short, yet again, of removing the service from full local authority control, lie in the recognition that community justice must remain fundamentally orientated in social work practice and ethos, something which previous attempts at centralisation and reform were explicitly attempting to remove. Of course, the fact that many of the services essential to offenders’ reintegration and desistance are also organised on a local level, also supports a locally organised community justice model (although there is a recognition, even within CPPs, that the Bill as introduced requires much greater clarity about how this will work). The decision has been taken to retain a largely localised model for community justice for the time being at least. However, it is interesting to reflect on the reasons why the centralisation of the police was pursued, and the centralisation of CJSW was not at this stage. As ever, it may be that external political factors were as important as the immediate issues at hand.

The eventual outcome of the proposals will depend on the Bill’s parliamentary process, but they are unlikely to depart too radically from the strategic central body / CPP local delivery model. The success of the new structures which will emerge from the process depends on several factors including whether Community Justice Scotland will be able to provide real national profile and leadership, the extent of the powers it is granted within the legislation and whether it will be able to hold CPPs and local authorities to account. Furthermore, success will depend on whether the administration of CJSW via 32 administrative units will succeed in reducing the fragmentation and inefficiencies which prompted previous reforms, the ability of national bodies (primarily the SPS) to be able to co-ordinate and plan delivery with so many local partners, and whether CPPs will be able to prioritise community justice services in the bustle of a busy planning environment.

See also: McNeill, F and Miller, M. (2013) Reform? Revisit? Replace? Scottish Justice Matters 1:1 5-8.

Morrison, K. (2015) ‘The management of community justice services in Scotland: policy-making and the dynamics of central and local control’. In: Wasik, M. and Sotirios, S. (eds) The Management of Change in Criminal Justice: Who Knows Best? London: Palgrave MacMillan.

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  1. […] This is just one of a range of tools the Scottish government is using to address its high prison population. Others include reducing the use of short prison sentences and reforming community justice services – both of these on the back of previous related attempts. […]