Getting in on the Act: The Home Office, the Crime & Disorder Act and the Internet

November 1, 1998

Philip Colligan works in the Home Office’sCriminal Policy Strategy Unit.

The Crime and Disorder Act 1998, much of which came into force on 30September, is something of a landmark for the Home Office. Not only is it thefirst major step in the Government’s criminal justice reform programme: it hasprompted the Home Office to make use of the Internet as a tool to help stimulateand foster the consultation process, in a more proactive way than ever before.The Crime and Disorder Web site can be viewed at

Open Government

The initial impetus for this move was the enthusiasm of Home Office MinisterAlun Michael for using Internet technology as an integral feature of theconsultation process, in line with the current commitment to open government.

Regulatory material and consultation papers are, of course, routinely postedup on Whitehall websites for reference. But the aim in this case was to go astep further and to open up a window onto the Home Office’s thought processes,by providing quick and easy access to the various documents influencing thelegislation – from inception through to implementation.

Consultation is Key

There can be no doubt that consultation is key to the Act – all 121 sectionsand 10 Schedules of it. It is a complex and ambitious piece of legislation thataims to deliver no fewer than 12 manifesto commitments, that involves input frommany branches across the Home Office and which impacts on the whole ofWhitehall.

In summary, the Act spans three key areas:

  • reform of the youth justice system
  • encouragement of safer communities
  • improvement of the performance of the criminal justice system.

Delivering these ambitions successfully, it is recognised, requires the inputand expertise of practitioners at all levels of the criminal justice system,along with partners in other key agencies and organisations, and members of thepublic. This is particularly so for certain provisions like drugs treatment andtesting orders which are being piloted prior to national rollout.

Integrated Communication

Keeping all these parties informed of developments has required a complexinformation cascade by the Home Office which has produced a number of documentsranging from the Introductory Guide to the Crime and Disorder Act,which has found an audience of lawyers, academics and the public alike, throughto detailed training guidance for practitioners (much of which has been thefocus for consultation). As part of this process, all relevant documentation(including Home Office circulars and draft guidance) has, wherever possible,been made available online.

The Advantage of the Internet

Co-ordinating the flow of information has been the responsibility of thededicated Criminal Policy Strategy Unit which has acted as the conduit betweenall areas of the Home Office and other external contributors – and theCommunication Directorate (CD), which has responsibility for managing both thewebsite and producing printed publications.

Usually, text is provided to CD’s Information Management Section, in wordprocessed format. It is then converted into HTML, to enable the connections andcross-referrals to other relevant Web sources to be built in. This process isusually completed within 24 hours, meaning that the electronic version ofparticular items, can appear before the full printed version.

The site itself is kept very simple and text-based deliberately, in order toensure that users can access and download information as quickly – and thereforeas cheaply – as possible. Occasionally, though items appear in Portable DocumentFormat (PDF) – a kind of photographic image – which can take longer to accessbut retains the original layout. We are always aware of the need to balance thepractical needs of users with our ability to go live with information as quicklyas possible. This was particularly crucial during August when the Act had beenpassed and activity hit a peak.

Between June, when work first began, and the time of writing the number ofpages relating to the Crime and Disorder Act on the Home Office site has grownto around a 100. And it seems that the site has attracted `new customers’ bothto the Home Office and the Internet itself.

For the first time, the contact names and telephone numbers for lead policyofficials in those areas subject to consultation have been published on the site- in order to encourage feedback. E-mail responses can be routed through PhilipColligan in the Criminal Policy Strategy Unit (

There has also been a closer level of collaboration with other agencies thanbefore. For example, jointly produced texts with the Prison Service and DataProtection Registrar have been flagged up on the site. There are of course linksboth to the Stationery Office site and with other Home Office documents – againto encourage information flow. We hope to forge similar links with additionalexternal organisations.

Having paved the way, we are now bracing ourselves for the Crime White Paper.For information watch: http//

Home Office Internet Site: some key facts:

  1. The Home Office has had a website since 1995.
  2. It comprises some 2000 `pages’ as at September 1998.
  3. Links to the Home Office site, along with other government departments, local authorities and other public sector organisations are listed on the CCTA’s Government Information Service pages (
  4. The Home Office was one of the first to show its new ministers and their backgrounds, complete with photographs, on the Internet after the general election in May 1997.
  5. The site was accessed 250,000 times in August 1998.
  6. Examples of the sorts of publications or information that are or will be covered by the website include:

    • information about directorates and units within the Home Office
    • annual reports
    • consultation papers
    • research reports/summaries
    • policy statements on topics in the news
    • factsheets
    • frequently asked questions
    • graphics and photographs.

  7. Recent additions include:

    • pages for public sector bodies that report via the Home Office on the `Millenium Bug’
    • Safety First (a news bulletin produced by the Health and Safety Section of HM Fire Services Inspectorate)
    • new pages for Research Development and Statistics Directorate (RDS)
    • consultation letter issued by Action Against Drugs
    • formula for police specific grant and police standard spending assessment in 1999/2000
    • Data Protection Act 1998: consultation paper on notification regulations.

Coming Soon

  • information about the Neighbourhood Watch Scheme
  • a consultation paper about licensing hours for the Millenium
  • additional reports from HM Chief Inspector of Prisons.