Categorized | Criminal Justice

Prisons and Courts Bill

Prisons and Courts Bill

“Prison is about punishing people who have committed heinous crimes, but it should be a place where offenders are given the opportunity to turn their lives around,” said the justice secretary, Liz Truss, introducing the Prisons and Courts bill last Thursday.

“I want our prisons to be places of discipline, hard work, and self-improvement, where staff are empowered to get people off drugs, improve their English and maths to get a job on release,” she said.

Under a new framework, the justice secretary will be accountable to parliament for progress in reforming offenders. Meanwhile, governors will take control of budgets for education, employment, and health. The government hopes the measures will drive down the £15bn annual cost of reoffending. This legislation underpins measures in the recently published Prison Safety and Reform White Paper.The government is also giving courts the power to put an end to the cross-examination of domestic violence victims by their alleged abusers in the family courts, ending what the justice secretary has described as a “humiliating and appalling” practice. “Our courts should be places where victims get the justice they deserve, and where our outstanding independent judiciary can flourish and focus on the cases that matter,” she said.

The bill hopes to pave the way for the biggest overhaul of prisons in a generation and the delivery of a first class court system. The use of virtual hearings will be extended and bail applications will be resolved via video or telephone conferencing. Booths will be placed in court buildings to allow members of the public to view virtual hearings live across England and Wales. Court listings and case results will also be published online.

Protection of victims and vulnerable witnesses in the courts, along with a commitment to reform offenders in prison, are laid out in law for the first time. The legislation includes measures to cut off illegal mobile phones being used inside jails and add psychoactive substances, formerly known as legal highs, to existing compulsory drug-testing powers.

Defendants will be able to submit evidence online in the same way that parking offences are disputed and resolved through a website. They will also be able to plead guilty, accept a conviction, be issued with a penalty and pay it online without waiting for a magistrate to determine their fine. “Britain has the best justice system in the world, but it should also be the most modern, because we have a vision for a justice system that truly works for everyone,” said justice minister Sir Oliver Heald.

The bill will provide a better working environment for judges, with modern court facilities and better IT that will help manage cases more efficiently. It will be easier for the judiciary to deploy judges more flexibly, allowing judges to gain experience of different types of cases. It also gives the judiciary more flexibility when it comes to handling case backlogs.

Elsewhere in the bill, new fixed tariffs will cap whiplash compensation pay outs, which the government says will ensure payments are proportionate to the level of injury suffered. Car insurance premiums will be cut by around £40 a year, with new fixed tariffs capping whiplash compensation pay-outs and a ban on claims without medical evidence.

Across the country, more than 2,000 new senior positions are being created for experienced prison officers on promotion. These posts, which cover specialist mental health training, will have a salary of up to £30,000.

Richard Burgon, Labour’s justice spokesman, said recent announcements by the justice secretary had yet to amount to a plan to combat the prison crisis. “With Liz Truss’s prisons and courts bill…the problems are mounting daily. We are four Conservative justice secretaries in and we’re still looking for one who can get a grip,” he wrote.

This post was written by:

- who has written 462 posts on Upper Case – The Anya Legal Journal.

Mike Gribbin is a retired Civil Servant with wide experience, including the drafting and implementation of Parliamentary legislation and regulations. He is the editor of “Criminal Offences Handbook”, a uniquely comprehensive guide to more than one thousand ways to fall foul of UK criminal law. He is Editor of the Upper Case Legal Journal and has been writing blog posts for the past eight years.

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