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Change is within our grasp

By John Samuels, retiring Chair of the CJA

My involvement with the Criminal Justice Alliance began by a series of happy accidents. By chance I attended its 2007 launch and there I met Nick Herbert MP, a fellow believer in criminal justice reform. Later I began to attend members meetings on behalf of the Prisoners Education Trust and, because I believed in what the Alliance could achieve, I joined its Board in 2010.

The CJA then had 48 members and the previous year had faced real tension over whether those involved in the privatisation agenda could remain as members. Within two years we’d sourced competent staff and continuing funding and developed a realistic future strategy.

Seven years later we’ve increased membership to 120 organisations, have substantially increased our income and further professionalised our work. The 2015 recruitment of Ben Summerskill, with his experience as an architect of social reform, has helped us significantly extend the Alliance’s reach and influence.

The quality of our quarterly speakers in recent years has been testament to the seriousness with which external figures regard the CJA. From two Directors of Public Prosecution and the Chairs of the IPCC and National Police Chiefs’ Council to the Lord Chief Justice and President of the Supreme Court senior players in the criminal justice world have regularly seized the opportunity to engage with so many thoughtful representatives of member organisations.

And as the possibility of material reform in criminal justice has presented itself in recent years senior politicians, both Secretaries of State and their shadows, have engaged closely with us too. We have successfully maintained good relations with them, while maintaining a reputation for complete political impartiality.

My personal enthusiasms for reform in our sector have focused on problem-solving courts and the concept of sentence supervision. However we are also at an exciting point, where other real changes to some of the most sclerotic parts of our courts and prison systems are being contemplated by ministers.

Even though I am stepping down, I hope nevertheless to maintain a relationship with so many of the interesting and talented people that I’ve met through the CJA. For all of us working together, the years ahead may be those in which meaningful reforms to Britain’s criminal justice system become firmly within our grasp.