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So who is next?

So who is next?

No tears were shed when, following the 2015 election, Chris Grayling was removed from the role of lord chancellor. There were nevertheless raised eyebrows when his successor was announced – Michael Gove, another unqualified incumbent.

But many fears were allayed when he set about righting the mean-minded Grayling rulings, such as the severe restriction of reading material in prisons. He also promised a review of ongoing criminal legal aid reforms and said there were no plans for further cuts on top of those already announced.

Speaking of the “dangerous inequality at the heart of our system” he said: “There are two nations in our justice system at present. On the one hand, the wealthy, international class who can, for example, choose to settle cases in London with the gold standard of British justice. And then everyone else, who has to put up with a creaking, outdated system to see justice done in their own lives.” He also grasped the nettle of prison overcrowding with far reaching proposals for ‘new prisons for old.’

On civil justice he said: “The current system adds to stress at times of need, and restricts access to high quality resolution of disputes by simply being too complex, too bureaucratic and too slow.”

Then came the upheaval following the referendum, with the change of prime minister and the ministerial reshuffle which consigned Gove to the wilderness. His replacement, Liz Truss, completed a hat trick of non legally qualified lord chancellors.

She set out her views on sentencing and the prison population in an address to the Centre for Social Justice. She said that the problems boil down to four distinct areas: sentences are too long; prisons are too overcrowded to work; the wrong people are in prison; and the management of the prison population at the moment isn’t good enough.

She identified the biggest driver for prison growth in the last twenty years as the exposure, pursuit and punishment of sexual offences and crimes of violence, and a toughening up of sentences for these crimes.

In family courts “I will end the appalling practice of domestic abuse victims being cross-examined by their attacker” she said. She herself took flak from the lord chief justice, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, who launched a forthright attack for her failure last year to defend judges who were branded “enemies of the people.”

Introducing the Prisons and Courts bill, she said: “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.

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. 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 bill will provide a better working environment for judges, with modern court facilities and better IT that will help manage cases more efficiently.

Across the country more than 2,000 new senior positions are being created for experienced prison officers on promotion. She concluded: “The answer to overcrowding is not to cut prisoner numbers in half. It is to make sure we have the right resources, the right workforce, the right buildings and the right regimes to reform offenders and turn their lives around (then) we will see our society become safer and our prison population will reduce.”

Now we have another hiatus caused by the election. How many of the enlightened proposals will survive? I will leave the shadow home secretary, Diane Abbott, to spell out the number of extra police officers required and the cost thereof.

Photo courtesy of mrgarethm on flickr

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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