Saturday, 3 September 2016

A Few Questions for the New Justice Secretary

On Tuesday, Justice Secretary Liz Truss and her new team face oral questions in the House of Commons and the following day Ms Truss is due to answer questions from the Justice Committee about her priorities in the new post.  Here are four criminal justice topics that MPs should ask about.

First, does Ms Truss still believe, as she did in 2011, that prisons should be tough, unpleasant and uncomfortable places? Philip Davies MP will hope so but other MP’s will expect a more constructive tone from the minister leading (what was at least) the Government’s flagship policy of prison reform. When can we expect a White paper/Draft Bill and what will it cover? In the meantime what is Ms Truss planning to do to increase safety and reduce violence in prisons and ensure they are adequately staffed? The committee should also probe on the plans for separate units for jihadi prisoners due to start in 4 category A prisons next year, and her thinking on tariff expired IPP cases.  

Second, Ms Truss has reportedly been less than keen on problem solving courts (but was more positive on the Today Programme on 22 August). MPs should ask if and when pilots will start, where they will take place and what exactly they will be piloting.   They should also try to find out if, like Mr Gove, she sees these are a vehicle for reducing imprisonment, particularly for women. Back in 2011, Ms Truss wanted to reverse the tide of soft justice. But, as a judge might put it “tempora mutantur". 

Third, has Ms Truss made any assessment of the Transforming Rehabilitation reforms? Her Permanent Secretary told the Public Accounts Committee in July he was only 60% confident that they were working. What sort of figure would she put on it? And what more can she say about the various electronic tagging pilots that are due to get off the ground in the autumn.  One of the areas Gove’s team were exploring is where electronic monitoring might enable offenders to be given a community sentence where at present they would be sent to custody. Is this still on the cards along with the greater use of electronically monitored release on temporary licence?

Finally on youth justice, what’s happened to Charlie Taylor’s review? Can Ms Truss be drawn on the likelihood of the new generation of secure schools outlined in February’s interim report or changes to courts and sentencing which Taylor’s been looking at since? Is the YJB, as is widely expected, heading for the exit door and what’s the latest on the sale of G4S’s Secure Training Centres?

There's lots more of course but preparing for these topics should give Ms Truss a busy enough weekend.  


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