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The Justice Puzzle: Mapping the System

BLOGS | 30th September 2020

As part of our Talking Justice blog series, Samantha Reekie, Improvement Lead at Community Justice Scotland, discusses taking on one of her most challenging projects to date: Navigating Scotland’s Justice System

My role, here at Community Justice Scotland (CJS), is about driving change by identifying improvements and challenges in our justice system.

A question I always get asked is: how do we achieve better outcomes for people who experience our justice system? Complex, yes! Long-term, yes! Doable, absolutely.

So, in my first ever CJS blog I’m going to explore: the justice puzzle. Stick with me, and I’ll explain.

The first piece of the puzzle 

Our starting point, is understanding the system. We need to know how it works and the processes within it that are the foundation on which we deliver justice in Scotland. We must consider the whole system and strive to understand what works and what doesn’t, to identify challenges and opportunities and ultimately, hopefully, to improve the lives of people in our communities. This begins with an illustration of the justice system; a map that shows us how the system works and the journeys that people can take. Creating this map isn’t simple. When we start to look at how our justice system operates, one thing is very clear – it’s complicated!

The Scottish justice system starts with a single point of entry: ‘alleged crime’. There are so many routes that a person’s journey may take and dozens of exit points that might be reached. In simple terms, the case might be dealt with directly by Police or Procurators Fiscal. Or, it might progress through one of our courts and lead to a community or a custodial sentence. Each one of these possible stages has its own set of processes and complexities and, on top of this, there are no guaranteed routes and we can’t be certain what path a person’s journey will take.

In fact, trying to follow journeys through the system only uncovers the breadth of complexity that lies within. And seeking to understand, to gather more information, only raises more and more questions.

Piecing together our justice system is like doing a jigsaw, except there is no picture on the front of the box to show us what it should look like or how big it is – and sometimes, no matter how hard you try, some of the pieces just don’t seem to fit together. In short, it is overwhelming.

Joining the dots

However, here at CJS we like a challenge! For the last year or so, we’ve worked closely with our partners and stakeholders to put the justice system jigsaw together. We have pieced together information across various stages of the system, filling gaps between partner processes and exploring different steps that might be experienced along the way. The result, our new digital resource: Navigating Scotland’s Justice System, shows the enormity of the system that we work in. It is a holistic illustration of a system that people attempt to navigate every day, but something we struggle to understand in full. This is our opportunity to act. Let’s use this resource to create a foundation for making change and improvements. Our evidence-base to improve our communities and make Scotland a safer place to live.

And, while we take this opportunity to understand the complexities of the system, we must remember that this is about more than just the processes to be followed. It is about the people who are trying to find their way through them.

When you can see the size and scale of the system, it is no wonder that people might feel lost.

Our Talking Justice blog series brings together reflections from across our society. We are committed to changing the conversation about justice, increasing understanding and support for what will make Scotland better for all of us. To that end, we have have created a resource that maps out the Scottish justice system. This has been developed into an interactive digital tool: Navigating Scotland’s Justice System.