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Devolving Justice: Insights from four case study areas

Insights Report


Report authors: Violette Gadenne, Research Lead | Sophie Wilkinson, Analyst | Harvey Redgrave, Chief Executive

Thursday 2 November 2023


Our findings

Since Police and Crime Commissioners were introduced in 2012, local areas in England have increasingly been given more control over aspects of criminal justice. In a research project funded by the Hadley Trust, Crest Advisory has looked back at some of the ‘justice devolution’ work that’s taken place to identify the progress that’s been made and lessons for the future.

Crest examined four areas - Avon and Somerset, Greater Manchester, London and the West Midlands. The picture was mixed. The process of justice devolution was unique to each area in terms of pace, focus, governance and the level of local control - but there were some common themes.

It appeared to us that concerns about creating a ‘postcode lottery’ of criminal justice outcomes had slowed the devolution process. We also found that the ability of areas to sustain the progress they’d made had been imperilled by conflicting priorities - local needs versus national policies.

The people who took part in our study said that getting agreement early on about funding and governance structures is essential to successful justice devolution. Such agreements bring clarity around the roles, responsibilities and expectations of national and local government, helping lay strong foundations for the work that follows. Once funding and governance agreements are in place, the focus can switch to collaboration and partnership working to deliver local justice services.

The uncertain political landscape makes it difficult to predict to what extent there will be scope for greater devolution, and justice devolution specifically. But our research helps chart a path towards that goal. It highlights some promising initiatives relating to female offenders and young offenders. We identify the potential to move towards further co-commissioning and co-designing of services between local areas and government departments. And our findings suggest that the mayoral model of devolution might be the best vehicle towards further progress in devolving powers over criminal justice.


Executive Summary

Since Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs) were first introduced in 2011, justice devolution to local areas in England has continued to progress. With this report, we aim to look back on some of the areas that have been involved in justice devolution efforts, and share the lessons they have learnt along the way. The four case study areas discussed in this report are:

  • London

  • Greater Manchester

  • The West Midlands

  • Avon and Somerset

Local progress towards justice devolution: four case studies

Greater London Authority

Greater London was the first area in England to hold devolved powers. Since, a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), specific to justice devolution, was agreed between the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime (MOPAC), London Councils and the Ministry of Justice (MoJ). The MOU outlined four priority areas for justice devolution to London:

  • Victims and Witnesses - via a devolution of pre-trial and outreach support for witnesses in London

  • Reducing reoffending - via greater influence over probation services

  • Managing vulnerable cohorts - specifically female offenders and young offenders transitioning to the adult system

  • Financial devolution - via exploring the feasibility and practicality of the full devolution of specific custody budgets.

Since the MOU was agreed in 2018, MOPAC has made significant progress towards delivering devolved services to meet the specific needs of Londoners. This report focuses on three examples of this progress: the female offender strategy, GPS tagging pilots and the transition to adulthood pilot.

Greater Manchester Combined Authority

Greater Manchester has been a Combined Authority since 2014. There have since been several devolution deals with the most recent being the 2023 ‘Trailblazer Deeper Devolution Deal’ which focuses on economic growth. At the time of writing in 2023, GMCA has had two published justice devolution MOUs with the MoJ. The most recent MOU outlines a justice outcomes framework for Greater Manchester which identifies the GMCA’s shared vision, justice outcomes, principles and the four key priorities for justice devolution in Greater Manchester:

  • Youth Justice Transformation

  • Smarter Justice: problem solving and family centred

  • Reforming adult offender management

  • Improving the victim journey

GMCA has continued to develop schemes to respond to the four priorities highlighted in their 2019-2021 MOU. Two examples of these are discussed in this report: the Greater Manchester Resettlement Consortium and the Whole Systems Approach to Women. The first example sits within the first priority: youth justice transformation, and the second example covers both the second and third priorities: smarter justice: problem solving and family centred, and reforming adult offender management.

West Midlands Combined Authority

West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) had their first devolution deal with the Government in 2015 and have since had two others in 2017 and 2023. The latest devolution deal is the 2023 ‘Trailblazer Deeper Devolution Deal’. The deal is similar to GMCA’s ‘Trailblazer Deeper Devolution Deal’ with an overarching focus on economic growth. There is currently no official justice devolution in WMCA. Unlike London and GMCA, WMCA has no justice devolution MOU nor does their metro mayor have PCC powers - the PCC holds a separate office and holds no voting rights within WMCA decision making.

There have been some restrictions on the progress of justice devolution to WMCA. Despite this, there has been work in the criminal justice landscape which supports local needs, which we provide two examples of in this report. The WM have secured Government funding to deliver local justice services as part of a pilot site for national policy. The WM PCC has also provided an opportunity to understand whether localised commissioning better meets local justice needs.

Avon and Somerset

There are no specific devolution deals to Avon and Somerset (A&S). However, in 2016 the Government, Bristol Mayor and other Council Leaders of the West of England published a proposed agreement to devolve a range of powers and responsibilities to a West of England Combined Authority (WECA). The PCC for Avon and Somerset, however, covers a larger region than the areas involved in the West of England devolution deal. Thus, PCC powers cannot (currently) be incorporated into the Combined Authority. There are no specific justice devolution deals in Avon and Somerset, nor in WECA. There have however been concerted efforts to develop a more joined up approach to justice in the area.

There are examples of services being tailored and delivered to answer local needs in Avon and Somerset. Similar to WM, services are funded mainly by the OPCC Police and Crime Grants, or by applying for national funding opportunities. The PCC structure has provided an opportunity to understand whether localised commissioning better meets local justice needs. In this report, we focus on examples of local diversionary and rehabilitation schemes.


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