Key Staff Show Life Inside Criminal Justice System
The highs and lows of the Welsh criminal justice system, are revealed today by those who work within it. Six key staff – including members of the police, forensic science service and the legal profession – were questioned about their day-to-day lives and the difficulties they face. Some admitted they struggle to work within the confines of laws which seem to stand in the way of justice, while others said they have to fight public opinion and the media.
For John McCarthy, defence solicitor and associate partner in the criminal justice department of Leo Abse & Cohen, the worst thing about the job is keeping up with the constant changes in the criminal justice field.
He said, “The Government has passed far too many Acts of Parliament which causes problems for defence solicitors and particularly for judges who have to interpret the law.
“The Government seems to make new laws every time a problem arises, this causes new problems and only succeeds in making the law more complicated than it needs to be.”
In the police service, administration is the biggest bugbear. Inspector Tony Bishop of Cardiff Police said, “Over the years, admin had certainly increased and although it’s right that we have to be accountable, that has come at a cost.
“We arrest a straightforward shoplifter and that can take a police officer off the street for a number of hours. I want him back out walking up and down St Mary Street.”
But there are areas where the good is triumphing over bad in the war against crime.
Inspector Bishop continued, “On a Friday and Saturday night there can be 40,000 in Cardiff city centre and if we get more than 10 arrests that’s a busy night, so that’s a small percentage.”
Advances in technology also mean that criminals are more and more likely to be caught and convicted.
Forensic scientist John Owen said, “We have drugs experts, we have toxicologists, we have people that go out to vehicle examinations. It goes on and on.
“We’re absolutely key and more and more so as technology has developed, particularly DNA and the DNA database. If the police today had an unsolved rape or murder we would be called in straight away.”
The relatively new Youth Offending Teams (YOTs), which were created in 1999 and which bring together members of organisations such as the police, education staff and mental health providers, are having a positive effect on reducing crime before it happens.
Alistair Macinness, team manager at Cardiff YOT, said, “Where in the past you would have had all those different agencies involved, now we’ve got them all in one building with the same aim.
“For communication and referrals it’s a lot easier. Before YOTs there was a lack of cohesion.”
He added, “The number of young people who we have coming through into the higher end, who are more heavily involved in offending, that’s definitely been reduced.”
But the key is getting young offenders off the streets and back into education, something which isn’t always easy in a culture that labels youngsters.
“A lot of young people can be demonised. Often the media plays up the image of young people as thugs and yobs, which isn’t particularly helpful because if young people think that’s how they’re perceived they can play up to that stereotype.”