Criminal justice systems across the developed world are under strain. Most face rising crime. All are grappling with new forms of crime.
The context for policy-makers has changed dramatically. Criminal justice systems, born out of a quite necessary and proper desire to protect at all costs the civil liberties of the innocent, seem cumbersome, out of date and therefore often ineffectual in convicting the guilty. Crime itself divides sharply into major organised crime, with increasing links to terrorism; "volume" crime like burglary and car theft that is often linked to drug abuse; and anti-social behaviour - low level violence, vandalism and misbehaviour. Yet the system seems to treat it all as the same, with the same rules and procedures and sentencing principles.
Alongside the changing context, is the changing nature of the political debate. For decades there was a sharp divide: the right of politics stressed personal responsibility; the left the social causes of crime. "Hard-liners" and "liberals" battled it out and the pendulum duly swung a little this way or that.
This is changed and for the better. No-one but a fool could deny that poverty, disfunctional family background, and low aspiration play a part in making the criminal. But very few argue today that any of that can excuse the crime. This Government has toughened not weakened the Criminal Justice System we inherited, though much more needs to be done. Most centre-left politicians today recognise the victims of crime are the vulnerable and must be protected. Intelligent centre-right politicians increasingly accept that for reasons of common sense, let alone justice, tackling the root causes is essential.
As a result of all this, there is an opportunity. Most accept the criminal justice system needs radical reform. Most accept also the reforms should be practical, based on common sense, not on an outdated ideological debate.
Before turning to the detail, let me give you a quick summation of where we are.
Shortly after the 1997 election, I received a presentation from our Home Office. It said that due to demographic and other factors, crime was set to rise sharply in the next few years. Some wearily thought it was inevitable. I didn't accept it then and I don't now.
In fact, since 1997 overall crime as measured by the British Crime Survey is down by 22 per cent, with victimisation rates in 2000 at their lowest level in 20 years. And the BCS even shows that violent crime is down too. Recorded crime is down 8 per cent though recent figures indicate a rise in the last year and there has been a particular problem with street crime.
We have passed a huge range of criminal justice legislation - 11 major criminal justice acts, strengthening our laws against everything from vehicle crime to terrorism and in the last Parliament commissioned major pieces of work on criminal justice and sentencing. The fruits of this work will appear in the new legislative programme. I simply emphasise crime has been from 1 May 1997 onwards a key priority of the Government.
Our forward programme has six key components:
1. Tackling the social causes of crime;
2. Zero tolerance of anti-social behaviour;
3. Specific action on the link between drugs and crime;
4. Measures to curb organised crime;
5. Root and branch reform of the Criminal Justice System;
6. Policing reform.
1. Tackling causes
We know that ultimately the best defence against crime is stronger families and a stronger sense of personal responsibility.
So we have invested billions of pounds in fighting youth unemployment and helping some of our poorest young children get a head start.
By 2004 our Sure Start programme will be reaching 400,000 children under four in 500 of our most deprived areas - supporting parents to give their child a better start in life.
At the same time we have put major new investment into youth activities to keep bored youngsters off the streets after school and during holidays. Starting with 100 or so high crime estates two years ago, there will be more than three times that number with programmes running this summer.
And since 1997 we have cut long-term youth unemployment by three quarters. 350,000 young people have got jobs through our New Deal programme.
2. Cracking down on anti-social behaviour
Five years ago we began a series of measures designed to curb what is probably the single biggest issue affecting the quality of life in many British communities: anti-social behaviour. By this, I mean the vandalism, graffiti, street crime - not done by big criminals, but by youngsters, often very young, who just think they can get away with it.
So: we have halved the time it takes to get persistent young offenders from arrest to sentence.
Every area now has a Crime and Disorder Reduction Partnership, bringing together police, local authorities and other local bodies to tackle crime. The best are excellent - some have cut crime significantly - and we are now looking to improve the rest.
Police and local councils can apply for anti-social behaviour orders to ban persistent trouble makers from housing estates or city centres. We are now making these more effective and easier to get.
Police will have new powers to tackle low-level disorder with fixed penalty fines and bans on street drinking, piloted from this April.
We are funding neighbourhood wardens and new Community Support Officers to support the police and provide public reassurance.
We are considering legislation that would allow us to withdraw Housing Benefit from people convicted of anti-social behaviour offences, and would make landlords take some responsibility for anti-social tenants; and examining withholding Child Benefit if parents are not cooperating in stopping their children playing truant.
We have begun a cross-Government Street Crime initiative to tackle street robbery by speeding up the system, giving a better service for victims and witnesses, including restrictions on bail, tougher sentences and secure accommodation even for the very young who are out of control.
We must end the vicious circle of drug related crime that accounts for such a large proportion of all acquisitive offences.
We have brought in tougher sentences for drug traffickers and those who deal in hard drugs.
Arrest referral workers are now in place in every police custody suite, identifying 25,000 drug addicted offenders every year who could be referred to treatment.
Drug Treatment Testing Orders, rolled out nationally since October 2000, are being well used by the courts. Almost 6,000 offenders a year are now required to undergo drug abuse treatment and testing as a condition of their community sentence; otherwise they go to prison. The feedback, though in its early stages, has been positive.
Our prison service is detoxifying over 40,000 prisoners a year and putting nearly 5,000 a year through intensive rehab programmes.
We have put record investment in drug abuse treatment places - an extra ??136 million over three years from April 2001, treating over 8,000 more people each year.
But this is far short of what we need. Our aspiration must be a criminal justice system that identifies not just some, but every drug addicted offender, at every stage of the criminal justice system - from arrest, to bail, to the sentencing decision - and which aims to get each one of them off drugs and away from crime; or put them in custody. We now have the National Treatment Agency in place. We are working across Government to ensure the right mix of treatment and punishment. We aim to offer criminal drug abusers a deal: we will help you get off drugs; but if you refuse that help, society must be protected from the consequences of your abuse.
4. Organised Crime
We need a different strategy to tackle organised crime.
The Proceeds of Crime Bill, currently going through Parliament, will give law enforcement agencies important new powers to tackle money laundering and freeze assets before they can be disposed of - right at the start of an investigation.
And it will create a new body - the Assets Recovery Agency - with powers to conduct investigations and take cases to the civil courts to seize the assets of known criminals.
We have brought all of the national law enforcement agencies together in a new Concerted Inter-Agency Drugs Action group, which has led to a step change in the way we tackle drug trafficking. At the same time, Project Reflex is bringing agencies together to take on another major area of organised crime - the people traffickers. And new powers in last year's Anti-Terrorism Crime and Security Act, plus new levels of international cooperation, have meant that it has never been more difficult for serious criminals or terrorists to launder their financial assets.
5. Criminal justice system
But these reforms will only get us so far in closing the justice gap - giving the public confidence that when they report a crime to the police an offender will be called to account. To achieve that, we need to improve the effectiveness of our court system.
The English legal system has been an influential model for criminal justice worldwide. It has powerful strengths. And we have already achieved a lot in making it work better - for example by reducing delays.
But now we the time has come to drag it from the nineteenth century into the twenty first. So two and a half years ago we asked a distinguished Judge, Lord Justice Auld, to make a root-and-branch examination of not just our criminal courts but the whole legal framework within which they operate.
His review, published last year, identifies a system with unnecessary complexities in every corner - damaging not just the efficiency and effectiveness of justice but public confidence too.
It is a system with no overall direction; no overall lines of management or accountability.
It is a system with rules of evidence and court procedure that suffer from what Auld calls "centuries of haphazard statutory and common law accretion".
In Britain you still need a whole library to understand the law's rules and procedures. But in Canada, anyone can go out and buy a paperback containing the whole legal code.
And many of our criminal justice IT systems are still in the dark ages - in comparison to other jurisdictions and leading edge private sector organisations.
All this must change. We will shortly be publishing a White Paper setting out proposed changes to many aspects of the criminal justice system. The detail must wait until then.
But let me emphasise our central principle: that above all, the time has come to rebalance the system so that we restore the faith of victims and witnesses that the court hearing will be fair toall participants. And so that we restore their confidence that a criminal will be brought to justice.
To achieve that shift we need major reform. We need clearer, simpler rules of evidence, that trust the common sense and decency of judge and jury.
We need to make sure that cases are in the best state they can be before the trial begins, by involving the CPS from the outset. Early results from pilot studies show that early advice can transform the prospects of getting a conviction.
We need to look again at the double jeopardy rule, in place to prevent people being tried twice for the same crime. For serious offences, if there is overwhelming new evidence that implicates the accused again, they should go back to court. That is the case in Germany, Finland and Denmark. If it makes sense there, it should make sense here too.
And where a judge chooses to stop a trial on technical grounds the prosecution should be able to challenge that decision not just in the magistrates courts - but for the most serious cases too. This is already the case in most European countries.
There will be a major investment in IT right across the system - in the courts, CPS and police - to enable them all to communicate effectively.
But the business of the courts - and our drive to reduce crime and see right done by victims - does not stop with procedure. We are also considering major reforms to sentencing.
Sentencing must work to reduce re-offending. That was the central conclusion of the Halliday Review into sentencing policy, which was published last year.
That means much better post-release supervision of all those leaving prison - for those on short as well as long-term prison sentences.
But it also means tougher supervision of violent and dangerous offenders - with an end to automatic early release.
Community sentences need to be flexible enough to enable the courts to combine elements from a whole menu of conditions - from compulsory work to drug testing or electronic tagging - to suit each individual offender.
The 2,500 most prolific persistent young offenders will be kept under surveillance seven days a week in the Intensive Supervision and Surveillance Programmes.
At the same time it means record investment in prison regimes to give offenders the basic skills and education they will need to survive on the outside. We will double the number of educational qualifications gained by prisoners by the end of next year.
6. Police reducing crime
Finally, for our rebalancing of the criminal justice system to work, we have to help all those professionals in it - not just those in the courts - do their job better.
From the point of view of the police, the approaches adopted by Bill Bratton and his team in New York, and by other American police chiefs since the 1990s, have inspired many of us this side of the Atlantic to believe that rising crime is not inevitable. Hence the programme for police reform now being worked out in partnership with the police.
We want our police to be far more aggressive about capturing and spreading best practice.
We want where possible to delegate power and decision-making to chief superintendents at Basic Command Unit level - the commanders closest to the problems of each neighbourhood.
And we want police managers to be able to use their workforces more flexibly, so we are getting rid of outmoded legal barriers and employment practices to get uniformed officers out of the station and on frontline duties. And we want pay to reward the officers with the toughest jobs.
I've argued that the time has come to move to the next stage of our overhaul of the criminal justice system - to build on what we have already achieved by re-balancing the system to deliver a fair balance between the rights of victims, witnesses, the rest of law-abiding society and the defendant.
Re-balancing the system means tackling the causes of crime - striving to give everyone in our society the rights and the opportunities they need to avoid a life of crime.
It means tough legislation - backed up with police on the streets - to reduce crime and anti-social behaviour and reinforce people's responsibilities to society.
It means bringing our courts into the twenty first century, and making sure that they serve victims and witnesses as well as they serve defendants.
And it means sentencing that keeps the public safe from the most dangerous prisoners, and which rehabilitates those who can be diverted from re-offending.
Some of our reforms will be controversial. Many rules of evidence and other procedures were introduced to prevent miscarriages of justice, and protections for the defendant must remain.
But it's a miscarriage of justice when delays and time-wasting deny victims justice for months on end.
It's a miscarriage of justice when the police see their hard work and bravery thrown away by courts who let a mugger out on bail for the seventh or eighth time to offend again; or when courts don't have the secure places to put people.
And it's perhaps the biggest miscarriage of justice in today's system when the guilty walk away unpunished.
A modernised criminal justice system demands justice for all. And we are on course to deliver it.