Departmental Update

Ministry of Justice written statement – made on 31st October 2019.

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Photo of Robert Buckland Robert Buckland The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

I am pleased to be able to update the House on the Government’s significant achievements in modernising the justice system over the past 10 years.

We have supported the prison system and created decent and safe prions by undertaking the following actions:

  • Since 2010 we have removed almost 50,000 Foreign National Offenders (FNOs) from our prisons, immigration removal centres and the community, and agreed new Prisoner Transfer Agreements with countries around the world to allow FNOs to serve their prison sentences in their own country, including Albania and Pakistan.
  • In January 2017, we launched a campaign to recruit 2,500 additional prison officers by December 2018 to ensure the safe running of our prisons. We achieved this target 6 months early.
  • In 2018/19 £70m was invested in prison safety, security and decency.
  • From April 2018, we have been testing and evaluating innovative approaches to helping prisoners recover from drug addiction through our £9m Drug Recovery Prison pilot at HMP Holme House. This is a joint project between MoJ and DHSC/NHS England.
  • In April 2019, we released The National Prison Drug Strategy together with guidance, and introduced innovative programmes such as Incentivised Substance Free Living.
  • The recent 10 Prisons Project saw an overall 16% reduction in the rate of assaults and a 50% reduction in total positive drug tests.
  • We are making a £100m investment in prison security to tackle the drugs, weapons and mobile phones that increase the risk to officers and hinder rehabilitation.

We have ensured that the sentences handed down by the courts are fair by introducing the following measures:

  • In 2012, the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders (LASPO) Act abolished the Imprisonment for Public Protection (IPP) sentence and introduced the Extended Determinate Sentences for dangerous offenders. Since 2016, implementation of measures contained in a comprehensive IPP Action Plan in 2016 has seen a dramatic reduction in the IPP prison population since abolition of the sentence.
  • That same year (2012) we also consolidated previous release legislation (contained in 1967 and 1991 legislation) into the Criminal Justice Act 2003, thereby making the sentencing and release framework less complex and confusing.
  • In 2015, the Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2014 was brought into force. This strengthened the Extended Determinate Sentence (EDS) by providing that in all cases where such a sentence was imposed the prisoner could be held until the end of the term, with the possibility of Parole Board release from the two-thirds point (previously, some EDS prisoners were released automatically at the two-thirds point).
  • In July 2019, we implemented new Parole Board Rules. This included the introduction of a new Reconsideration Mechanism to make it easier to challenge parole decisions which appear seriously flawed. This built on the rule changes enacted previously in 2018 which abolished the prohibition on disclosure of information and enabled the Parole Board to issue summaries of its decisions to victims and others who requested one.
  • In October 2019 we laid legislation to ensure that serious violent and sexual offenders spend a greater proportion of their sentence in custody.
  • We have also this month laid legislation to implement 2012 legislation to introduce Alcohol Abstinence and Monitoring Requirements as a sentencing option.
  • This month we have also introduced the Prisoners (Disclosure of Information about Victims) Bill, responding to the Helen’s Law campaign, which will ensure that cases where prisoners do not disclose the location of victim’s remains or the identity of children in indecent photographs are fully considered by the Parole Board when considering the release of such a prisoner.

We have improved support for the victims of crime by introducing the following measures:

  • In 2010, the first Victims’ Commissioner for England and Wales was appointed. Their role is to promote the interests of victims and witnesses, encourage good practice in their treatment.
  • In 2011, we implemented the Prisoners Earning Act which allows a levy to be imposed on prisoners’ earnings when they are undertaking paid work in the community. This helps raise £1m plus each year to support victims.
  • In 2012, we launched a consultation on ‘Getting it right for victims and witnesses’, setting out the government’s proposed approach to ensuring that victims and witnesses get the support they need.
  • In 2012, the EU Directive for Victims of Crime 2012/29/EU was passed. This requires all EU countries to establish minimum standards on the rights, support and protection of victims of crime. The UK fulfils these obligations through the Code of Practice for Victims of Crim (Victims’ Code). In 2015, the Victims’ Code was revised to full transpose rights within EU Victims’ Directive.
  • In 2013/14, Police and Crime Commissioners were allocated local funding to commission emotional and practical support services for victims of crime in their area.
  • In 2014, the government established the Victims Panel, to represent the voice of victims in government policy making.
  • In 2018, the Victims’ Strategy was published, providing a national, cross government framework to make fundamental improvements for victims.
  • In 2019, we published a consultation on amendments to the Victims’ Code

We have modernised the justice system by introducing the following reforms:

  • In 2012, we created new offences of causing serious injury by dangerous driving and squatting in a residential building.
  • In 2015, we criminalised sexual communication with a child and made it a crime to possess a “paedophile manual” (Serious Crime Act 2015).
  • We also tackled Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) by extending extra territorial jurisdiction (tackling crimes committed overseas), providing anonymity for victims, introducing a new crime of failure to protect a girl under 16 and introducing new FGM Protection Orders (Serious Crime Act 2015).
  • That same year we also strengthened the law on grooming and made Revenge Porn a crime (Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015).
  • In 2016 we introduced public hearings to the Court of Protection increasing transparency around the Court’s work.
  • In 2016, the Government commissioned David Lammy MP to conduct an independent review into the experience of and outcomes for Black Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) people in the criminal justice system. In December 2017, MoJ confirmed its commitment to make progress on all the recommendations in some way.
  • Since October 2017, we have been working with Health Partners on a Community Sentence Treatment Requirement (CSTR) Protocol which aims to increase the number of community sentences with mental health, drug and alcohol treatment requirements attached.
  • The Assaults on Emergency Workers Act (Offences) 2018 created a new offence and raised penalties for assaults on emergency workers, including police and prison officers.
  • In June 2018, MoJ published a Female Offender Strategy, which set out our vision and plan for reducing women’s offending by taking a gender-informed approach to improve outcomes for female offenders at all points of the justice system.
  • In April 2019 we introduced new legislation to reform divorce law, removing the need for divorcing couples to blame each other for the breakdown of their marriage.
  • In February 2019, MoJ brought in a new law to ban ‘up-skirting’ following engagement with campaigner Gina Martin.
  • In June 2019, the Government scrapped the ‘same roof rule’ that made some victims ineligible for compensation through the Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme.
  • In July 2019 we introduced the landmark Domestic Abuse Bill to increase protections for victims of domestic abuse and prevent victims being cross examined by their abusers.

We have modernised the prison estate:

  • Since 2010 we have opened 8,397 places via four new prisons: Isis, Thameside, Oakwood, and Berwyn, totalling 5,734 places.
  • Alongside new prisons we have built 11 new house blocks at existing sites: Elmley, Nottingham, Parc (x2), Buckley Hall, Moorland, Bure, Peterborough, The Mount, Thameside, and Stocken, totalling 2,663 places.
  • In the same period, we have closed a total of 7,295 places via: 20 prison closures (6,530 places) at Ashwell, Lancaster Castle, Latchmere House, Wellingborough, Bullwood Hall, Canterbury, Gloucester, Shrewsbury, Kingston, Shepton Mallet, Dorchester, Northallerton, Reading, Blundeston, Blantyre House, Haslar, Dover, Holloway, Kennet, and Glen Parva; and two partial closures (765 places).
  • In 2019 the Prime Minister announced an additional £2.5bn provide an additional 10,000 prison places; the first of which will be built at Full Sutton. This is in addition to new prisons already planned at Wellingborough, which is in progress, and Glen Parva, which we expect to start building next year.

We have made improvements to probation services:

  • Since 2010, we have extended probation supervision to more than 40,000 prisoners serving short sentences, who previously left prison with no statutory supervision.
  • In May 2019, we announced plans to strengthen probation services by bringing the supervision of all offenders under the National Probation Service while ensuring a significant role for the voluntary and private sectors in the delivery of interventions.
  • MoJ has made available £280m for voluntary and private sectors to deliver innovative rehabilitation services. The new probation structure will convene services from other government departments to support offenders, and improve the skills of the probation workforce, and the estate.

We have made considerable improvements to rehabilitation in prison, including:

  • We have published our Education and Employment strategy in May 2018, which set out how we will transform our approach to ensure prisoners develop the skills they need to secure employment on release.
  • We have introduced reforms to the disclosure of criminal records to prospective employers to help get ex-offenders into employment, which makes re-offending less likely.
  • In May 2019, we made changes to Release on Temporary Licence policy to improve opportunities for work and resettlement while in prison.
  • Through the Government’s Rough Sleeping Strategy, we are investing up to £6.4m in a pilot scheme to support individuals released from three prisons: Bristol, Leeds and Pentonville.

We have made reforms to the way legal aid and legal support are provided:

  • In 2010, the Coalition Government committed to carrying out a ‘fundamental review of legal aid’, in order to contribute towards reducing the deficit. This led to two major transformation programmes (the Legal Aid Reform programme and the Legal Aid Transformation programme) which included the introduction of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO). As a result of this, between 2010-11 and 2018-19 legal aid spending fell by £945m in real terms, or 36%, whilst ensuring those in need of support could access it.
  • Since the passage of LASPO, MoJ has also delivered a series of legislative changes to ensure those in need of legal aid can access it, including victims of the Grenfell disaster, offenders in prison, and most recently separated migrant children in immigration cases.
  • Alongside a post-implementation review of the legal aid changes made by and since LASPO, in February 2019 MoJ published a Legal Support Action Plan which announced a range of initiatives which aim to help people resolve their legal problems earlier, including a new Legal Support Innovation Fund. We also announced a comprehensive review of the legal aid means tests to ensure that legal aid is available to those who need it and have recently announced a consultation on the housing possession court duty scheme which will ensure anyone at risk of losing their home has access to the legal help they need.
  • Following reforms to the fee schemes for advocates in the Crown Court in 2017 and 2018, the MoJ has also announced a comprehensive review of criminal legal aid with the aim of creating a modern, resilient and sustainable criminal legal aid market, with a diverse workforce.

We have made reforms to the way in which Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service Operates:

  • In 2016, the Lord Chancellor and senior judges set out their vision for the £1.2bn HMCTS Reform programme, to modernise the courts and tribunals system and reduce complexity in processes.
  • Four new online services have been delivered to the public covering Divorce, Probate, Civil Money Claims and Social Security Appeals and have been used by over 250,000 people with user satisfaction rates over 80%.
  • We have begun using the Common Platform in the magistrates’ courts, which in time will deliver a single online system enabling the police, the CPS, HMCTS and legal professionals to access and share all relevant information about a case.
  • We used to reject 40% of paper divorce applications because they were incorrectly filled in. The new online service has received over 65,000 applications and the rejection rate has dropped to under 1%.
  • Two Courts & Tribunal Service Centres (CTSCs) have been opened in Birmingham and Stoke-on-Trent with a third due to open in Loughborough in 2020. CTSCs are transforming the way we deliver justices services and manage cases by providing a centralised, national service for all users.
  • Wi-Fi has been installed in all of our courts and tribunals, and more than 80,000 professionals are accessing Wi-Fi in our courts each week.
  • We have closed underused, dilapidated court buildings, raising £125m to invest more effectively in improving our justice system.
  • A new system for summary offences has handled over 68,000 Transport for London and TV Licensing cases, cutting delays and inefficiency.

We have supported the UK’s world-renowned legal services sector:

  • We have launched the Legal Services are GREAT international marketing campaign in 2017. This promotes the UK’s legal sector overseas, worth around £25bn to the UK economy, to win business for our law firms, chambers and professional bodies.

Since its launch in Singapore in 2017, the campaign has featured in 30 countries worldwide, with trade missions to Kazakhstan, China, Chile and Nigeria.

This statement has also been made in the House of Lords: HLWS64