Only a few days to go: We’re raising £25,000 to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can hold their elected representatives to account.

Donate to our crowdfunder

Prisons and Courts Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 9:41 pm on 20th March 2017.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice 9:41 pm, 20th March 2017

I have not got much time, I am afraid.

I think the right hon. and learned Lady made the point that we might want to see whether there was a solution in secondary legislation, as well as in primary legislation, that might address some of the important points she raised. Of course, the prison rules are secondary legislation, and they already contain a lot of detail about the way in which prisoners should be treated. So it is possible to look at those issues, and I will certainly do that.

Kate Green mentioned the Prison Reform Trust and its suggestion that we should add fairness and decency to the statutory purpose. It is right that those are important considerations in running prisons, but we need to remember that there is already an interlacing of legal obligations that apply in prisons. The right hon. and learned Member for Camberwell and Peckham, with her background in the Joint Committee on Human Rights, mentioned that there are basic human rights—articles 2, 3 and 8—that apply to the way in which prisoners are treated. There is health and safety legislation. There is the duty of care that comes through the law of tort. So it would be wrong to think that there is not protection already, but this is certainly something we can examine further in Committee. I would like to pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Derby North, who has done so much as the rapporteur for the JCHR on the issue of deaths in prison.

My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Harborough and others asked what happens if a prison does not meet the purpose set out in law. The purpose of prisons is in the Bill, and it is underpinned by the inspectorate’s duty to inspect against the purpose and the aims. It is also protected by the Secretary of State having to respond. I would not say that it is impossible that a case could be mounted for judicial review—to even say that is to press the case too far—but I think it would only be in a case where an individual prison totally ignored or disregarded the purpose, or something of that sort, that it would be grounded. Possibly, these things could also be considered as a factor in another case, where other aspects were being raised.

Mr Hanson asked about the update on HMIP’s protocol with the MOJ, and I pay tribute to his experience in this area. Earlier this year, a draft protocol was shared with the Justice Committee and other bodies. The final protocol will be available very shortly, and I can promise that it will be there before the Committee stage. [Interruption.] Very shortly—imminently.

I could say a lot about family engagement, and the Farmer review looks very much at it. It is well understood that maintaining family relationships is a key element in trying to set prisoners on the straight and narrow and that it is very important in rehabilitation.

Richard Burgon asked about the time limits for responding to inspection reports. Action will be taken from day one of an urgent notification by the chief inspector, so immediate energy will be brought to bear. Twenty-eight days is the appropriate period in a really urgent case of that sort. On the Law Society’s concerns about safeguards for online conviction, defenders must opt in to the new procedure, and proper warnings will be available making it clear that if a defendant wants to challenge the case in any way—for example, if they want to argue that time to pay is needed for a financial penalty or that the penalty should be lower because of means or circumstances—then all these things will be made clear. The Bill also provides that in the event of a mistake made for whatever reason, it will be possible to set aside the conviction or the sentence in order to have the matter dealt with in the traditional way. I am sure that we will discuss this more in Committee, but certainly the idea is to have those protections in place.

My hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon asked about successful prosecutions of fraud cases in relation to whiplash. The insurance industry data show that in 2015 there were 70,000 cases of insurance fraud worth £800 million. The City of London police insurance fraud enforcement department has secured over 200 prosecutions in the past four years, resulting in over 100 years’ worth of jail time for insurance fraudsters. A lot of action is being taken on this.

On whiplash more generally, the Government note that over a 10-year period when we have seen the number of road traffic accidents falling and car safety improving, we have had a more than 50% increase in the number of whiplash-related cases. These cases are obviously exaggerated to some extent, and perhaps fraudulent. No Government could ignore these sorts of statistics and not take action. We have not taken extreme options but gone for moderate options such as a tariff of damages for the very minor cases. The tariff does not apply in a serious case of whiplash where the damages would be substantial—it is for cases where the pain and suffering lasts less than two years and is of a minor nature. Against that background, such a tariff is surely a reasonable approach. If there is any element of exceptionality in these cases, then there is a provision to uplift. We say that this approach is proportionate to the scale of the problem.

My hon. Friend Philip Davies talked about violence against prison officers. I do not totally agree with him about this. I think that if there genuinely is violence against a hard-working and dedicated prison officer—he has been assaulted and it is an offence—we should go further than my hon. Friend suggests. I think that the perpetrator should be prosecuted in court for that violent offence, that he should face swift justice, and that the court should give the full penalty that is right for the offence. I would not say that it is a question of him serving his full time for the original offence, but that he should serve the full time for a serious offence of attacking a prison officer. I take a slightly different view from my hon. Friend on that.