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Report on issues involving the criminal justice sector

Justice & Courts
Prisoners / Corrections
Mel Smith
Issue date:

The report is comprehensive but does not purport to provide an in-depth analysis of the detailed operation of all parts of the criminal justice system.  Neither resources nor time permitted an examination of that magnitude.

The report does however consider the overall operation of the system sufficient to satisfy the Terms of Reference directed to me.  The views expressed and suggestions made are based on my own knowledge of that system, together with interviews I conducted and submissions I received from people who are involved in the system at the judicial, policy and operational levels.  I can report that there was considerable interest in my investigation and a clearly expressed desire by all those with whom I spoke to contribute to improvements in the system right across the spectrum, ie policy development, legislation and operationally.

The criminal justice system is complex and difficult.  Unfortunately the rhetoric that we hear in the media and elsewhere almost daily tends to convey an impression that there is some simple answer to crime and criminal justice.  That is very far from the reality.  There is no simple answer.  There is no silver bullet.

 This report identifies issues of policy, practice and management that need to receive ongoing focus.  It is instructive to note that, up until this reference from the Prime Minister, there has been no comprehensive review of the whole of the criminal justice system and how the component parts should operate and interact to achieve the objectives of a coordinated and effective process directed to meet society’s goals.

I was not asked to make recommendations.  Indeed it was not appropriate in my view that an investigation of this nature should do so.  Section 13(5) of the Ombudsmen Act requires that I investigate and report on the matter that is referred to me.  Nevertheless, my report does make suggestions and these are matters for the government to consider and act upon as it sees fit.

Although my report deals with the spectrum of criminal justice, I have given some emphasis to issues of youth justice and crime prevention.  I see these two aspects as ones that, appropriately developed and resourced, could provide significant opportunities to deal constructively and productively with the complex issues of crime and criminal justice in the fairly immediate future.

I express my concern in the report about how the issues of crime and criminal justice have become highly politicised and often the subject of uninformed and superficial public and media comment.  There has been, and continues to be, a lack of constructive and clear headed public debate about the issues.  As a consequence there is an absence of rational decision making based on any critical examination of the issues.  This tends to act as an impediment to constructive change.  This situation exists at the policy development, political and legislative stages and also importantly at the various operational levels.  At the operational level the criminal justice sector operates in a climate of independence and involves the exercise of statutory authority.  Judicial independence, registrarial independence, constabulary independence and decisions taken under delegated authority, all of which have a significant impact on the operations of the criminal justice system, are exercised by various people within those spheres in many different ways.  Such independence is an important factor in the proper and fair operation of the system.  Nevertheless the somewhat haphazard nature of some of the decision making produces unfairness and perverse consequences.

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