Criminal Justice and Courts Bill (2014)

Second Reading Speech by Rt. Hon Sadiq Khan MP (Shadow Justice Secretary)

Criminal Justice and Courts Bill (2014)

 

CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY

 

Mr Speaker

This Bill has come from nowhere.

If the Government really wanted a new Justice Bill, the obvious place to trail this would be in the imminent Queens Speech

Not today, in a 2nd Reading today towards the tail end of this Parliamentary session.

 

So what's going on?

With 15 months to go until the General Election, experienced heads around Parliament say it’s never been so quiet.

And we know the old saying the devil makes work for idle hands

Well, recent weeks have certainly shown that to be the case

With the Government suffering a number of troubling episodes with their own backbenchers

Perhaps, in no small way, to the thin legislative programme leaving their own side twiddling their thumbs

 

Mr Speaker, nature abhors a vacuum

But then so does Parliament

Disquiet, plotting and rebellions tying the Government in knots

Leading to the absurd situation where it took THIS side of the House to vote down a Tory backbench amendment on the Government’s own Immigration Bill An amendment that broke the rule of law

All while the Conservative majority in the coalition sat on their hands

Have you ever heard of anything so pathetic?

 

A Governing party that can’t even vote in favour of its own bill even though it is the rule of law?

And a Lord Chancellor, who swears an oath to uphold the law, who couldn’t even bring himself to vote for that rule of law

 

And we know exactly what has happened

A desperate memo has probably gone round the Cabinet from the Prime Minister

Pleading with cabinet colleagues to bring forward legislation – ANY legislation – to fill the pitiful gap in parliamentary schedules and to keep Tory backbenchers busy and happy.

 

And who was the only willing and eager star pupil to respond?

Keen as mustard to be top of the class?

Yes, the Justice Secretary

I can see his response now to the PM:

 

"Dear Dave,

I read your memo begging for legislation to make it look like this Government is doing something and also to keep those pesky ungrateful backbenchers happy.

I know they hold you responsible for not winning the last General Election.

They don't realise what a masterstroke you pulled off in fooling Nick to get you into No 10 and taking the flak for some of the rubbish we have done over the last 4 years.

I’m only too willing Dave to rush forward some criminal justice legislation.

It’s a bit of a Christmas tree Bill, but it does mean we can shove as many baubles on it as we want.

After all, the more tabloid-friendly stuff might help keep UKIP off our backs and those ungrateful backbenchers off yours!

Yours sincerely

Chris"

 

And what’s more we know the Government is in chaos

Because this latest criminal justice Bill is having its second reading before either of the other Government criminal justice bills - the Anti Social Behaviour Bill or the Offender Rehabilitation Bill - have even received Royal Assent

Talk about desperation!

 

And you know when a Government is in a mess when they bring in new laws to amend laws they only passed just over a year ago

That’s what this Bill does!

 

That’s the mess this Government are in, and that’s the shambles of a way they are running our justice system

 

Mr Speaker

I won't go through every one of the 63 Clauses in this Bill But I want to be clear

There are elements of this Bill we support

Some bits we think need further work done to them

And some we just downright oppose

 

Turning first to Part 1 of the Bill, in this section, the Government attempts to make up for the error they made when they abolished indeterminate sentences for public protection – IPPs

They can't admit they got it wrong and do a 180 degrees u-turn so instead they're doing a partial u-turn by bringing in a raft of new sentence proposals

Of course, we support keeping the public safe from the most serious and violent criminals

That’s why we opposed the RHM for Rushcliffe - the previous Justice Secretary - when he removed from Judges the power to make an IPP to protect the public.

 

The current Justice Secretary would never have countenanced abolishing them.

But he voted for them to be abolished and so can't admit that.

So we have Clause 3 and Schedule 15 - eligibility for life sentences and Extended Determinate Sentences to try and address the mistakes in the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012. 

 

Giving the parole board a say in whether or not some of the more serious criminals should be released at half way or two thirds is no substitute for Judges having the power when sentencing to make an Indeterminate Sentence to protect the public.

This will lead to an extra workload on the Parole Board, yet I bet the Secretary of State can't even tell the House what extra resources he will give them to do their job properly

 

The Ministry of Justice's own Impact Assessment estimates at least an extra 1100 Parole Hearings due to this Bill.

Add to this all the supplementary work involved and it's a huge addition to the Parole Board's work load.

How will this be resourced? Silence!

 

Surely even this Justice Secretary must understand that a poorly resourced Parole Board making the wrong decisions about whether or not to release someone is as bad as automatic release

Wrong decisions made by the Parole Board because of overburdened and stretched staff helps no one.

Nor does delays to get a hearing due to a backlog.

We know there are currently problems and delays in prisoners getting the courses and treatment they need as part of their Sentencing plans and then waiting for a Parole hearing.

Imagine what the future holds.

 

Also, increasing the maximum sentences for a handful of offences still leaves many that would previously have allowed a judge to give a more appropriate sentence to protect the public uncovered.

And by the way, while we don't oppose him; let's at least be clear.

The provision to increase the maximum life sentences for certain terrorist related offences looks tough.

But the Ministry of Justice impact assessment confirms this is a classic "con trick".

Do you know how many offenders were convicted in 2013 for either of the offences of weapons training for terrorist purposes or training for terrorism?

None.

What about in 2012?

None.

This new toughness will affect no one.

There are zero of these offences being brought before the courts which means there is no one to punish and no one to deter!

I wonder how the Justice Secretary intends to measure the impact of this change?

He doesn't.

It's all about appearing to look tough.

 

On cautions, Labour has led calls for something to be done about the inappropriate use of cautions for serious and violent offences like rape and to stop those who are repeatedly receiving cautions - something the Library paper that accompanies this Bill recognises.

 

The Shadow Home Secretary, RHF from Pontefract has raised this as indeed I have at Justice Questions.

It has taken the Government some time to admit that there is even a problem with the growth of inappropriately used cautions for serious and violent offences

 

I can remember the Secretary of State getting in a tangle when trying to explain cautions for rape at one of the Justice Questions - actually thinking victims are to blame saying cautions are given because victims withdraw their statements!

 

We will have to study in detail the proposals in the Bill to see whether they do indeed help address the growing concerns of the public that the overuse of cautions is another example of this government doing justice on the cheap.

However I note there is nothing in the Bill to address the overuse of fixed penalty notices, penalty notices, warnings and conditional cautions the over and misuse of which are also of concern.

 

Mr Speaker, the changes in Part 1 taken as a whole will see more people in our prisons

Indeed, the Government’s own impact assessment estimate an addition 1050 prison places will be needed

But, as of last Friday, there were just 510 places left in the whole prison system, with the secure estate operating in excess of 99% capacity that usually sees Operation Safeguard kicked in

The Secretary of State needs to be straight about where he plans to keep these additional prisoners

With his flagship titan prison not due on stream until 2017, the public have a right to know.

And, what’s more, the impact assessment fails to estimate a cost of these additional prisoners

But we know it costs around £42,000 a year to keep someone in prison

By my reckoning that’s around £44million a year it will cost for those additional places

Why is he being so shy about the cost of his proposals?

It is quite clear he has no idea where he will get the money from or where the spaces are in our prisons

 

The concern is that he simply doesn't care.

As he is working on the basis he will be long gone before any of this mess needs cleaning up

He left the mess of the Work programme when he left his last job.

It looks like he could be leaving even more problems when he leaves this job; probation privatisation, legal aid and now a prison population crisis.

 

Mr Speaker, we broadly welcome the direction of travel with electronic monitoring subject to clarification on costs and technical developments

We will also be closely scrutinising the Ministry of Justice's ability to properly monitor the private companies who will be awarded the contracts to ensure the public gets value for money and the Ministry is not taken for a ride again.

 

Mr Speaker we don't oppose the plans on automatic release and recall (clauses 7-11) and we welcome clause 16 which bans the possession of extreme pornographic images depicting rape

A number of victims groups and experts have been calling for this change and the government should be commended for listening to the evidence.

 

Turning next to the second part of the Bill on youth justice, it is worth pausing for a moment to reflect on the dramatic falls that have taken place in the numbers of young people held in custody over the last ten years.

The most recent figures show a drop of over 60% and I would like to pay tribute to the hard work of the Youth Justice Board and Youth Offending Teams up and down the country.

I am proud of Labour’s record, in setting up the YJB, leading to these falls

Their innovative ways of working have delivered enormous social and economic benefits to society, and I for one am delighted that we on this side of the chamber fought so hard to protect the YJB from this Government’s attempt two years ago to close it down.

But we have reached a hardcore of young offenders in our youth justice system and that brings with it a different set of challenges

Re-offending rates for this hardcore group remain stubbornly high.

The Government’s preferred solution is secure colleges, and this bill paves the way for them to be introduced

But ministers have announced only one so far – in Leicestershire

Construction won’t start till 2015, and there’s no clear idea where the £85million will come from

It does smack me as another commitment made by this Government which the next Government will be left the tab for

During Committee Stage we will need to get down into the details

But already a number of groups have expressed concern at the plans

There will be just one secure college

Either that is a huge college for the whole country – a teenage Titan prison – with all the problems that entails

Or only those in the East Midlands will benefit

And how restraint is planned on being used in the new Secure College is also a concern.

There is concern this is a return to the discredited borstal system so we will seek reassurances on this at Committee.

 

Also, it is unclear what provision is planned for young females.

Nor has the Government made its intentions clear on the network of Secure Children’s Homes

Granted, these are expensive, but having visited them I have seen first-hand the young people and the range of severe problems they have to deal with

Extreme caution is needed before this group of highly vulnerable young people are lumped in with the wider youth justice system

And we will want convincing why the Govt thinks forking out £85million on new bricks and mortar is better than spending this on improving the amount of education and rehabilitative work in the existing Secure Training Centre network.

 

The Justice Select Committee recently argued for a "fundamental shift" of resources from custody to early intervention with young people at risk of offending.

They also made the point that most young offenders would not be in custody long enough, the average is 79 days, for the secure college to do to any good in improving basic skills and addressing offending behaviour.

A number of other experts have also raised concerns about the Government's plans which we shall explore at Committee

 

The third part of the Bill proposes changes in our courts.

On the face of it, efforts to speed up and make more efficient court proceedings are to be welcomed.

Such as easier and quicker appeals to the Supreme Court, and Magistrates Courts dealing with lower level offences in a faster manner

But this should not be to the detriment of proper open justice or due process.

The Civil Justice Council and others have raised concerns that we shall explore at Committee.

 

Similarly no one is opposed to convicted criminals being made to make amends for their crimes.

The Government now wish to tack on a charge to those found guilty towards the cost of their trial.

But, Mr Speaker, there have been difficulties with collecting fines and the victims surcharge from guilty criminals – sometimes through organisational problems, other times because criminals simply do not have any money –

We know there are around £2billion in uncollected fines and just this weekend it was reported £13 million in victims surcharge had failed to be collected by this Government

Therefore we will be seeking guarantees that this won’t be yet another trumpeted announcement, only to end in failure down the years as non payments rack up and are written off.

 

It is also right that the law keeps up to date with the march of technology with regards to jurors and the use of the internet.

I’m pleased the Government has listened to the recommendations of the Law Commission in this respect.

But as members will recall from the high profile trial involving Vicky Pryce, there are problems with juries not sufficiently understanding their role

And we shall be exploring what steps can be taken to educate and inform the public about the important civic function of jury service, so that it is less of an alien process to them.

Proposals to raise the maximum juror age limit to 75 are welcomed

 

The fourth part of the Bill deals with changes to judicial review

And Mr Speaker, in a country without a written constitution, we tinker with important checks and balances like judicial review without proper thought, at our peril

And what is the current Justice Secretary’s view on JR?

In a piece he wrote in his favourite paper the Daily Mail he said;

"JR is not a promotional tool for countless left-wing organisations. So that is why we are publishing our proposals for change.....Britain cannot afford to allow a culture of left wing dominated, single issue activism to hold back our country from investing in infrastructure and new sources of energy..."

 

News, I’m sure, to those of his backbenchers and Conservative Councils who’ve been involved with JRs against Heathrow expansion, High Speed 2 and no doubt will be in the future against wind farms and fracking.

 

Let me explain this to him in plain English without any long legal words

MPs, individual citizens, community groups and organisations & local authorities aren't "part of a culture of left wing dominated campaigners" when they legitimately ask the judiciary to review decisions made by public authorities including government ministers.

And delays in HS2 or Crossrail 2, the lack of houses being built or big infrastructure is more to do with the incompetence and policies of this Government than judicial review.

 

It's hardly surprising people believe his true intentions are to insulate his Government’s bad decision making from any kind of challenge

 

This Government has also sought to rein in legal aid, no win no fee cases, gag campaign groups with their shoddy lobby bill and constantly attack human rights laws - there is a pattern here

These are the tools by which our citizens hold to account governments

And this Government is weakening them

Putting decisions made by government ministers (and other public authorities) above the rule of law, almost free to do as they place, to the ludicrous extent that breaking the law appears to be of no concern to them

It is clear the Justice Secretary is underpinned by a majoritarian view of the world – in which democracy is only about elections, and those who win can do as they please in between

I might be a tad more sympathetic to the RH Gentlemen if his party had actually won the last election

But his policies are dangerous

Democracy is about way more than elections

And I’m not alone in this view

 

Lord Dyson, the Master of the Rolls has said “there is no principle more basic to our system of law than the maintenance of the rule of law itself and the constitutional protection afforded by judicial review”

The former Lord Chief Justice, the esteemed Lord Woolf, said “In our system, without its written constitution embedded in our law so it can’t be changed, judicial review is critical.” And that the Ministry of Justice is showing a “remarkable lack of concern for the precision of the facts”

And here’s Joe Rukin, co-ordinator of the Stop HS2 campaign, that infamous left wing dominated campaign, who said “The government seem to be making out that they believe any of their infrastructure plans should be above the law and do not realise that it is essential in a democratic society to be able to hold the government to account”

 

I hold up my hands up as a former Minister and admit that when you are part of the executive, the threat of being judicially reviewed can sometimes feel like a nuisance. Judicial review can be a pain when you are a decision maker, but that’s the point.

It’s about making sure decisions are done properly, follow due process and are within the laws of the land.

If we expect our citizens to abide by the rule of law, the government should be no different.

And that means acting lawfully

Not scaring off potential opponents before the game has begun

Or imposing huge consequences on the team that loses

And to stretch the sporting analogy further, under their proposals, the Government would be playing down a steep slope for the full 90 minutes, and defending a much smaller goal to the one they’re trying to score into.

Their opponents would be uphill all game, and have a much smaller set of goalposts to aim at.

That’s not fair, and it’s not justice.

 

Mr Speaker, it’s also worth noting what’s not in the Bill

Despite all the Government recent talk about victims, there’s nothing about a Victims’ Law.

What a missed opportunity.

 

This is disappointing not only to victims and potential victims but also no doubt the Hon Member for Witham, who has been vocal in her support for Labour Victims’ Law

Instead victims and witnesses will have to wait for Labour winning the next election to bring an end to them being ignored and trampled on by our unresponsive criminal justice system

There’s also little in here to address the specific problems faced by women, those with mental health problems and ethnic minority communities in our justice system

 

Mr Speaker

I have to congratulate the Lord Chancellor

He’s achieved something in his short time in the job few of his predecessors could ever have dreamed of

He’s managed to alienate just about every part of the justice system

Prison staff are more under-pressure and threatened in their day-to-day work environments than ever

Probation staff feel betrayed, done all that’s been asked of them, then sold off to the likes of those serial under performers G4S, Serco and A4E

Legal professionals horrified at the erosion of access to justice, and the insulation of the powerful from challenge that’s happened on the Lord Chancellor’s watch

Charities and community groups demoralised at the ignorance shown towards the European Convention on Human Rights and the Human Rights Act

Things so bad that there’s even the threat the legal profession might boycott the Justice Secretary’s planned celebrations for the 800th birthday of the Magna Carta next year

And, what’s more, he’s managed to deliver the first ever industrial action by barristers.

 

Mr Speaker, this Bill is all about trying to create some work for rebellious, bored and troublesome backbenchers to do.

The Bill may well succeed in doing that, but the idea that this bill will do anything substantive to reduce crime, help victims be at the centre of the justice system, improve our courts system or keep our communities significantly safer is a joke - a bit like the office of Lord Chancellor has become with this incumbent.

ENDS

 

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