Moved by Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames
97: After Clause 164, insert the following new Clause—“Women’s Justice Board(1) There is to be a body corporate known as the Women’s Justice Board for England and Wales.(2) The Board is not to be regarded as the servant or agent of the Crown or as enjoying any status, immunity or privilege of the Crown; and the Board’s property is not to be regarded as property of, or held on behalf of, the Crown.(3) The Board must consist of 10, 11 or 12 members appointed by the Secretary of State.(4) The members of the Board must include persons who appear to the Secretary of State to have extensive recent experience with women in the criminal justice system.(5) The Board has the following functions, namely—(a) to meet the particular needs of women in the criminal justice system;(b) to monitor the provision of services for women in the criminal justice system;(c) to advise the Secretary of State on—(i) how the aim in subsection (5)(a) might most effectively be pursued;(ii) the provision of services for women in the criminal justice system;(iii) the content of any national standards the Secretary of State may see fit to set with respect to the provision of such services, or the accommodation in which women are kept in custody; and(iv) the steps that might be taken to prevent offending by women;(d) to monitor the extent to which the aim in subsection (5)(a) is being achieved and any standards met;(e) for the purposes of paragraphs (a) to (d) above, to obtain information from relevant authorities;(f) to publish information so obtained;(g) to identify, make known and promote good practice in— (i) meeting the particular needs of women in the criminal justice system;(ii) the provision of services for women in the criminal justice system;(iii) the prevention of offending by women;(iv) working with women who are, or are at risk of becoming, offenders;(h) to commission research in connection with such practice;(i) with the approval of the Secretary of State, to make grants to local authorities and other persons for the purposes of meeting the aim in subsection (5)(a) and the provision of services to women in the criminal justice system, subject to such conditions as the Board considers appropriate, incl uding conditions as to repayment;(j) to provide assistance to local authorities and other persons in connection with information technology systems and equipment used or to be used for the purposes of the aim in subsection (5)(a) and the provision of services to women in the criminal justice system;(k) to enter into agreements for the provision of accommodation for women in the criminal justice system, but no agreement may be made under this paragraph in relation to accommodation for women in the criminal justice system unless it appears to the Board that it is expedient to enter into such an agreement for the purposes of subsection (5)(a);(l) to facilitate agreements between the Secretary of State and any persons providing accommodation for women in the criminal justice system;(m) at the request of the Secretary of State, to assist in carrying out the Secretary of State’s functions in relation to the release of offenders detained in accommodation for women in the criminal justice system; and(n) annually—(i) to assess future demand for accommodation for women in the criminal justice system;(ii) to prepare a plan setting out how they intend to exercise, in the following three years, the functions described in paragraphs (k) to (m) above, and any function for the time being exercisable by the Board concurrently with the Secretary of State by virtue of subsection (6)(b) below which relates to securing the provision of such accommodation, and(iii) to submit the plan to the Secretary of State for approval.(6) The Secretary of State may by regulations made by statutory instrument—(a) amend subsection (5) above so as to add to, subtract from or alter any of the functions of the Board for the time being specified in that subsection; or(b) provide that any function of the Secretary of State which is exercisable in relation to women in the criminal justice system is exercisable concurrently with the Board.(7) The power of the Secretary of State under subsection (6)(b) includes power—(a) to provide that, in relation to any function that is exercisable by the Secretary of State in respect of particular cases, the function is exercisable by the Board only—(i) where it proposes to exercise the function in a particular manner, or(ii) in respect of a class of case specified in the order, and (b) to make any supplementary, incidental or consequential provision (including provision for any enactment to apply subject to modifications).(8) No regulations under subsection (6) may be made unless a draft has been laid before and approved by a resolution of each House of Parliament.(9) In carrying out their functions, the Board must comply with any directions given by the Secretary of State and act in accordance with any guidance given by the Secretary of State.(10) A relevant authority—(a) must furnish the Board with any information required for the purposes of subsection (5)(b), (c) or (d) above; and(b) whenever so required by the Board, must submit to the Board a report on such matters connected with the discharge of their duties as may be specified in the requirement.A requirement under paragraph (b) above may specify the form in which a report is to be given.(11) The Board may arrange, or require the relevant authority to arrange, for a report under subsection (10)(b) above to be published in such a manner as appears to the Board to be appropriate.(12) In this section “relevant authority” means a local authority, a chief officer of police, a local policing body, a local probation board, a provider of probation services, a clinical commissioning group and a local health board.(13) Schedule (Women’s Justice Board: further provisions) has effect.”Member’s explanatory statementThis new Clause makes provision for the establishment of a “Women’s Justice Board”, along the lines of the Youth Justice Board. The drafting closely follows the form of the provisions establishing the YJB in the Crime and Disorder Act 1998.
My Lords, the amendments in this group propose the establishment of a women’s justice board, along the lines of the Youth Justice Board. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, and the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, for adding their names.
The drafting of the two amendments remains as it was in Committee, and closely reflects the wording of the provisions in the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 establishing the Youth Justice Board. When we debated these amendments in Committee, on
“We on this side of the Committee strongly support these excellent amendments”.—[Official Report, 17/11/21; col. 327.]
He spoke of the need to give real drive to the movement to further the needs of women within the criminal justice system.
No one disputes that the Youth Justice Board has been a resounding success. It has concentrated effort on recognising and addressing the special needs of young people within the criminal justice system. It has diverted many away from involvement with the system, and offered help and support to those who have been convicted and sentenced, both with community sentences and in custodial settings. The figures speak for themselves: in the last 15 years, the number of under-18s in custody in this jurisdiction fell by about three-quarters, to well under 800 now.
The establishment of a women’s justice board could, we believe, achieve similar success for women, by concentrating effort and resources on helping women who come into contact with the criminal justice system, diverting them from custody, improving the effectiveness of community sentences for women, increasing their use in consequence, and building ways of offering women offenders specialist support with the special issues and difficulties that they face. In Committee we debated those at length.
We also considered the appalling effect of custody on women and their children. The harsh truth is that 19 out of 20 children whose mothers are imprisoned are forced to leave their homes. All the evidence is that those children are themselves more likely to become involved in crime, more likely to suffer from mental ill health and to fail at school, and less likely to find stable employment as young adults—all to the detriment of society at large. The Minister, replying in Committee, disagreed with the proposition that there is a crisis of confidence in women’s justice. That is not the view of the overwhelming majority of experts and those working in this area, who are all deeply troubled by the lack of specialist support and consideration for women in the system.
It is true that, as the Minister said, we have the female offenders strategy, which started in 2018, and the Advisory Board on Female Offenders. The Ministry of Justice is doing work in this area, but it was working in the area of youth justice before 1998, and that did not obviate the need for the Youth Justice Board.
The Minister said in Committee, and repeated when we met the other day—I am grateful to him for the time and care that he has taken, as he always does, to consider the arguments on this issue—that the key point, from the Government’s point of view, was that we do not have a separate criminal justice system for women and girls, as we do for young offenders. As he put it, there is no separate legal framework; women are dealt with as part of the adult offender population. He drew a distinction, for that reason, between women’s position in the criminal justice system and that of young offenders, whom the law treats differently from adults.
I am afraid I do not follow that logic. It seems to me that it contains a non sequitur. The Government accept that women, like young offenders, have special needs in the criminal justice system. The Minister himself spoke of women having particular needs which we needed to identify. I say we need to do more than to identify them; we need to address them. He spoke of the prevalence of mental health issues, of the number of women survivors of abuse—I took it that he was referring to both sexual and physical abuse—and of the closer link among women offenders between drug and alcohol abuse and reoffending than exists for male offenders.
The Minister did not speak in Committee about the particular family issues faced by women in the system—but the effects of custody on the children and families of women offenders are devastating. We have heard about them, in particular, in the debates on the amendments proposed by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester on primary carers. It is no answer to the need for special attention to women’s needs in the criminal justice system to say that women are subject to the same criminal law as men. That fact, of itself, does nothing to address those special needs.
The Minister raised in Committee the issue of the time needed to establish a women’s justice board, but if we could achieve, in 23 years, anything like the same improvements as the Youth Justice Board has achieved in that time, that would be swift progress indeed. He also spoke of the cost implications of establishing a women’s justice board. That does not allow for the substantial savings that would follow from keeping even a few women out of custody, with the knock-on social costs of taking children into care, and the social costs that follow from women’s involvement in the criminal justice system, particularly when they receive custodial sentences.
There is simply no genuine and convincing answer to this proposal. I urge the Government simply to accept that establishing a women’s justice board would be the most effective, and the most promising, way to achieve all that they themselves say that they wish to do for women who find themselves entangled in a system that lamentably fails to address their particular difficulties. I beg to move.
My Lords, I support the amendment, because there is a real problem at the heart of criminal justice, which leads to the dissatisfaction that women feel about the justice system. We have created our system around a notion of gender equality that followed on from many years of using the male pronoun, “he”, with the person at the heart of the criminal justice system being a male agent. We then decided that we could not have that any longer, and that the way forward was gender neutrality. But of course gender neutrality is to a large extent a fiction. We know that that neutrality—creating some sort of supposed equality in criminal justice—actually creates further inequality. To treat as equal those who are not yet equal creates only further inequality. I want to emphasise that: it creates further inequality to pretend that we now have equality between the sexes. That is why I feel—although I know it is never comfortable for Governments to take ideas from elsewhere—that having such a board is a necessary part of addressing the great public discontent about the system and the way it deals with women.
I support the idea of a board that looks specifically at women in prison. We know that the majority of them have mental health issues and that their dependency on drugs and drink often derives from backgrounds of abuse: having been brought up in families where abuse was prevalent, or having themselves been at the receiving end of abuse. Understanding women in prison, how they themselves almost invariably have been victims of crime, is one of the ways in which we will progress the system. The Government should adopt this idea.
We need to concentrate on addressing what happens when women go to prison, because often they lose their accommodation and their children are taken into care. The disruption of everything that matters to them is so great that it is very difficult to repair. I therefore support the amendment. It is worthy of this House’s consideration and it is regrettable that it has been dismissed out of hand. There is a problem at the heart of this: you cannot move from inequality to equality simply by saying that there is equality now.
My Lords, I strongly support this amendment. Noting the success of the Youth Justice Board, as the noble Lord, Lord Marks, did, I venture to suggest that many of the problems of women in the criminal justice system would disappear if there was such a board, and the establishment of women’s offending teams.
My Lords, I add my wholehearted support to this amendment. I am very grateful to the noble Lords, Lord Marks and Lord Ramsbotham, and the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, for their continued commitment to women in the criminal justice system. As bishop to prisons and president of the Nelson Trust, I am acutely aware, as I have said so often, of the need for a gendered approach to justice. The noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, has just put that very powerfully.
While men and women need to be treated with equal justice, equality is not about sameness. Women are caught up in a criminal justice system that has been designed around men, and there needs to be a gendered lens. As we have heard already, many, many women are more likely than men to be primary carers or victims of abuse or exploitation. When they are given a prison sentence, they are more likely to be given a very short one, often far from home. I do not want to repeat things that have been said so many times in Committee and on Report but, having lost the amendment on primary carers earlier on during Report, I am very grateful to noble Lords for bringing forward these amendments, which will go a long way towards ensuring that we get the same outcomes. I am therefore wholeheartedly glad to support these amendments.
I rise briefly to add my voice in support of the amendments. I accept that the Youth Justice Board has been an enormous success, and that is primarily because it addresses two separate problems to deal with youths. One is the causes and reasons why they offend and the other is the need for their rehabilitation into society. Although, for reasons that are necessary for the trial of youths, they need a separate system, the underlying reason for the Youth Justice Board applies equally to women, in that there are specific causes of offending, the particular vulnerability, the particular issues they have with mental capacity in certain areas, the specific crimes to which they have been subjected and, above all, domestic abuse.
Moreover, it is plain that the kind of rehabilitation that women need is different. They need much more support in integrating them into the community, but they also need not to be treated or dealt with at centres. I warmly welcome what the Ministry of Justice has done and set forth in its strategy. The difficulty is that although there have been numerous reports about what is required—the report of the noble Lord, Lord Farmer, for example, and the many reports of the Prison Reform Trust—what is needed is delivery. Delivery is key to this, and that is why I warmly support this amendment.
In considering the issues relating to women’s justice and the commission I chaired on justice in Wales, it was plain that the Welsh Government were taking a separate and distinctive strategy towards female offending. The difficulty there, however, was delivery. It is delivery that has been the success of the Youth Justice Board and would, I believe, be the success of a women’s justice board. I therefore warmly support the amendment.
My Lords, I too warmly support this amendment. Like most criminal lawyers, I have often visited women’s prisons and I must tell your Lordships that they are shattering and disturbing places. The sheer amount of human damage that one encounters in women’s prisons is very disturbing. My main reason for supporting this amendment as strongly as I do is precisely the delivery aspect to which my noble and learned friend Lord Thomas has just referred. Something has to be done to persuade the Government, and all of us, I suppose, to focus on the processes that are leading women—mostly damaged women, with children, who themselves are victims of serious crime—into these places. Without a way to focus on this as a public policy that can deliver some change, nothing will change. I strongly believe that the proposal in this amendment, if adopted by the Government, could lead to some desperately needed change.
My Lords, I too support this amendment. It seems to me that the case for the amendment is made plain by the functions of the proposed board, as set out in subsection (5). The functions include meeting the particular needs of women in the criminal justice system; monitoring the provision of services for women; obtaining information from relevant authorities; publishing information; identifying, making known and promoting good practice; commissioning research in connection with such practice; and providing assistance to local authorities and other associated purposes. Is the Minister really disputing that there is a vital need for all of that to be done, and by a body dedicated to that purpose?
My Lords, I was pleased to attach my name to these two amendments, and I thank the noble Lord, Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames, for leading on them. The case has already been clearly made and I will not speak for long, given the hour, but it is worth looking back at the history of this. I looked it up and found a House of Lords Library note from
The noble Baroness, Lady Corston, produced an enormously important report well over a decade ago that made a huge number of recommendations, most of which have not been implemented. This really is another way, as several noble Lords, particularly the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, have said, of getting at the problem of implementation. We have been talking about how the criminal justice system is failing women for a very long time, and it really is now time to take action. I will finish with a quote from Baroness Howe of Idlicote, who has now retired from your Lordships’ House. She said, back in 2008:
“I must say that I have become tired of seeing this matter brought to debate again and again”.—[Official Report, 31/1/08; col. 805.]
Surely it is time for action.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to speak in this debate because I have been making speeches on this topic for 12 years. I believe, if memory serves, that I was the Front-Bench speaker in the other place who proposed the amendment to the LASPO Bill. It is quite extraordinary. I think it is now 22 years since this was first suggested and, as others have said, we have had the Corston report. We cannot have a debate on women in prison without reference to my noble friend Lady Corston—Jean Corston—and the work that she has done. The idea of a women’s justice board has been around for so long because it is such a good idea. There is so much evidence of the impact, and probably the savings, that it would make, should we take that path.
There is a long-accepted problem—and I know the Minister accepts that there is a problem—with the failure of the criminal justice system properly to address the needs of female offenders. This leads to poor reoffending rates and devastation for families, with children often bearing the brunt. The social and economic cost is enormous. Women make up only 4% of the prison population and are still too easily overlooked in policy, planning and investment decisions for the reasons that my noble friend Lady Kennedy outlined so well. Female offenders are different from male offenders: they have different health needs, including pregnancy, miscarriage, breastfeeding and menopause. We know that these issues are neglected, and we know the failure to tailor provision for women affects reoffending rates.
The frustration is that the Government agree with all this, yet they seem constantly to fail to move the dial. Unfortunately, according to the excellent work done by the Prison Reform Trust, fewer than half, I think, of the commitments made in the Government’s Female Offender Strategy, which was published in 2018, have been met so far. We know that community sentences can be more effective than short prison sentences, yet the use of community sentences is dropping—it has dropped by two-thirds since 2010. Community provision for women needs to be so much better, and the quality everywhere needs to improve. There are many excellent projects, but provision is way too patchy. One of the functions of a women’s justice board, like the Youth Justice Board, would be completely to transform that.
The Government’s Female Offender Strategy is not being delivered quickly enough. This leads many of us to conclude that a new lead organisation for female offenders would make the difference. Since my noble friend Lady Corston’s report, understanding of female offending has improved so much—this is a real positive—and the Government have played their part in this. I believe Ministers want to act and want female offending to improve. I hope the Minister is not just going to stand up and say “We are making progress—bear with us”, because we can all see that it is inadequate. Nothing that has been done so far is making a sufficient difference. Interventions in this space are too often short-term. They leave the fundamentals of substance misuse, mental health, housing, financial literacy and domestic violence unaddressed. We know that self-harm in women’s prisons has reached record levels. The situation is getting worse, not better. More than 20% of self-harm incidents involve women, with 12,000 incidents in 2020 compared to around 7,500 in 2016. A strategy is great, and we need a strategy, but we need leadership to ensure that delivery takes place. A women’s justice board would provide the strategic framework to identify and prioritise the specific needs of women within the criminal justice system.
Having been around this a few times now, the Government have previously argued that this can be achieved through ministerial working groups or strategies, and it could have been done, but the truth is that so far it has not. Many of us will have visited women’s prisons and seen what happens. One of the most upsetting things I have ever seen was when I was present for visits where women were interacting with their preschool children. The response of the women and the children was difficult for prison staff as well. That was an annual thing in that prison—once a year that happened. There is no central co-ordinating body able to identify best practice and make sure it happens everywhere. We fail on that because the Government do not have that central body. Women are going out; they are not making progress—reoffending is as bad as it has ever been. I feel we have come to a point where it is time to bite the bullet and accept the idea of a women’s justice board.
My Lords, as noble Lords will be aware, we debated these amendments in Committee. At that time, they were withdrawn without a vote, although I acknowledge that, as the noble Lord, Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames, fairly said, those who spoke in Committee overwhelmingly supported the amendment.
I have of course listened very carefully to the various speeches and points made around the House this evening. I think it is fair to say that the arguments in support can perhaps be distilled in four points. I set them out not to make the case against me stronger but perhaps at least to reassure the House that I have understood it. First, the Youth Justice board model has been a success in reducing the number of children entering the youth justice system or custody and, therefore, it is an appropriate model to follow as the needs of women are distinct. Secondly, sometimes their needs are similar, for different reasons, to the needs of children. Thirdly, women are often victims as well as offenders and largely commit non-violent and low-level crime. Fourthly, a women’s justice board would provide the effective leadership and drive to address the particular needs of women in the criminal justice system and divert them before they come into contact with that system by preventing offending in the first place. The House should therefore be reassured that the Government and I have understood and considered carefully the case. As the noble Lord, Lord Marks, said, we have had a number of very helpful discussions about it.
The Government recognise that women who are in or at risk of contact with the criminal justice system have distinct needs that require a distinct approach, and we have acted in a practical sense on that recognition. We published the Female Offender Strategy, which sets out a comprehensive programme of work to respond to those needs, and we remain committed to its delivery. The Advisory Board on Female Offenders provides external and independent oversight of the strategy, but my ministerial colleague in the other place, Minister Atkins, has also asked officials to review the wider governance arrangements for the strategy to ensure that they are fully fit for purpose to support the work across government which is vital to deliver the strategy.
I explained in Committee why the Government are not persuaded that the Youth Justice Board is the right model for addressing the needs of women. To take up the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, and others, I again underline that I agree and accept that the Youth Justice Board has done extremely good work in its area. There is a short point here, but I suggest it is very important. We have a separate youth justice system. The Youth Justice Board is a reflection of that different system. It is a specialised justice board for a specialised and separate justice system. That is not just to make the physical point that children are still maturing, so the justice system applies to them differently. It is to make the point that the youth justice system is significantly different from the adult justice system in a number of respects.
Let me set out a number of them. First, with youth justice, there is a statutory aim
“to prevent offending by children and young persons”.
That is from the Crime and Disorder Act 1998. There is a greater focus on prevention and diversion. Custody is used as a last resort, as it is in the adult system, but there is greater focus in the youth justice system because there are separate community services provided by youth offending teams, which are part of local authorities. There is a separate youth court with specially trained magistrates with different sentencing powers. There is a separate sentencing framework for children that does not apply to adults. Of course, there is also an entirely separate custodial estate, which is managed in an entirely different way.
That is before one gets to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which we ratified. Article 40 covers children and justice, and expects states that are party to the convention
“to promote the establishment of laws, procedures, authorities and institutions specifically applicable to children alleged as, accused of, or recognized as having infringed the penal law”.
So it is not just that children have different requirements; there is an entirely separate justice system for them.
However, unlike children in the criminal justice system, there is no separate legal framework for women. Women are managed as part of the adult criminal justice system. We have one unitary adult criminal justice system, which is gender-neutral. To pick up the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws, gender-neutral does not mean gender-blind. The system is gender-neutral and applies equally to all offenders while—this is the important point—recognising their specific individual circumstances.
I assure the noble Baroness that I am entirely relaxed about taking ideas from elsewhere; when it comes to that, I am an unabashed Maimonidean. However, the fact is that the criminal justice system does look at the circumstances of women. We have far fewer women in prison. We had a very interesting debate on the amendment put down by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester on primary carers, in which I set out our position—and I shall not repeat it now. I absolutely accept the right reverend Prelate’s proposition that equality is not about sameness. I also accept the points made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, that women have specific requirements because often they have been abused, and have specific requirements for rehabilitation. I agree with the noble and learned Lord and other speakers that the touchstone is delivery. However, I suggest to the House that the female offender strategy put in place by the Government takes full and proper account of the existing legal framework while setting out a comprehensive programme of work to respond to the needs of women in, or at risk of, contact with the criminal justice system.
To pick up the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, we do not disagree that the matters set out in the amendment and the work that the proposed board would do are important; the question here is how we will deliver that work. The Government believe that the matters set out there, many of which are very important, are part of and will be delivered by the female offender strategy. The question is not whether the work ought to be done; it is whether we need a new body to do it. I suggest that we do not. We have in place a comprehensive female offender strategy, which is the best vehicle to deliver that work. That is the right way to approach this, rather than going to the expense—and, yes, the time—of setting up a separate statutory body from scratch. I therefore respectfully agree with a lot of what the noble Baroness, Lady Chapman, said. We agree broadly about the aims; this is really about the method of delivering them.
The underlying point is that we have a single adult criminal justice system. We should not, therefore, have a separate women’s justice board. The Youth Justice Board is for a separate justice system. Essentially, for that reason, I invite the noble Lord, Lord Marks, to withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that response. I am reassured by the fact that he says that he understands the case, of course, but I am not reassured by the logic that drives him still to oppose these amendments.
I did not hear in what he said anything that answers the unanimous speeches around the House, which made two important points. The first is that women’s needs are different and special. As I said in my opening speech, that does not seem to me to be answered by the fact that there are different justice systems applicable to youths and to women. The second point is that this is about delivery. It is not just about a philosophy that says that we recognise those needs, or even that we identify them; it is about addressing those needs and bringing some drive to that effort. Those points were made powerfully by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, the noble Lord, Lord Macdonald of River Glaven, and many others. The question put to the Minister by the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, as to what it is that the Government do not want delivered, was not answered by the Minister saying that the Government want to see this delivered, unless they are prepared to do something to achieve that delivery.
I am grateful for the support of the noble Baroness, Lady Chapman, whose speech can perhaps be summarised by her question: so far, has it been done? The answer is no. Delivery has not been achieved. We believe—the speeches from around the House show that noble Lords also believe this—that a women’s justice board is needed to achieve that delivery. For that reason, and in the hope that sufficient Members from the noble Baroness’s party will support her and us on this issue, I wish to test the opinion of the House.
Ayes 99, Noes 169.