Martin Partington: Spotlight on the Justice System

Keeping the English Legal System under review

Posts Tagged ‘prisons

Covid 19 and the English Legal System (5): Parliamentary inquiries (revised)

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Those interested in how key actors in the legal world are trying to cope with the implications for the English Legal System of  Covid-19 might care to follow the work – currently on-going – of two  Parliamentary Select Committees.

The  House of Commons Justice Committee launched an inquiry into Coronavirus (COVID-19) on 31 March 2020. It is examining the impact on prisons, the probation service and the court systems. They have held three evidence gathering sessions in which they heard from a number of key witnesses, including the Lord Chief Justice, the Minister of State, key officials from Prisons and Probation, the Chair of the Magistrates Association. It is likely that the Committee will publish a relatively short report in the course of the next few weeks.

At the same time on 13 May 2020, the House of Lords Constitution Committee opened an inquiry into the Constitutional implications of Covid 19. This will be a more wide-ranging inquiry than that being held by the Commons Justice Committee.

The announcement of the inquiry states:

The Covid-19 pandemic and the Government’s measures to respond to it have significant constitutional implications, as well as health, social and economic ones. These include:

  • The ability of Parliament to hold the Government to account
  • Scrutiny of emergency powers
  • The operation of the courts

The Constitution Committee will consider these issues and other related matters as part of an umbrella inquiry into the constitutional implications of Covid-19. The Committee will initially explore questions such as:

  • What can Parliament do to maximise its scrutiny of the emergency regulations and to hold the Government to account effectively during lockdown? How are adjustments to procedures and processes working in the House of Lords?
  • What are the consequences for different ways of Parliament working on effectiveness, accessibility, fairness and transparency?
  • What emergency powers has the Government sought during the pandemic and what powers has it used and how?
  • What lessons are there for future uses of emergency powers, their safeguards and the processes for scrutinising them?
  • How has the Government used both law and guidance to implement the lockdown and what have been the consequences of its approach? How has this varied across the constituent parts of the United Kingdom?
  • What liberties has Parliament loaned the Government during lockdown? What are the processes for reviewing and returning them? Are the sunset provisions in the Acts and regulations sufficient?
  • How is the court system operating during the pandemic? What has been the impact of virtual proceedings on access to justice, participation in proceedings, transparency and media reporting?
  • How will the justice system manage the increasing backlog of criminal cases? Is it appropriate to rethink the jury system during the pandemic, and beyond, and if so how?

 

To date, the Committee has issued a call for evidence and has had a number of hearings at which oral evidence has been presented. Among the witnesses who have already given evidence is the ‘guru’ of the use of IT in the delivery of legal services, Prof Richard Susskind and the leading researcher on the justice system, Prof Dame Hazel Genn.

I suspect this report will take somewhat longer to appear than that of the Commons Committee.

In addition to these two inquiries which cover many aspects of the working of the legal and justice systems, in mid-May 2020, the House of Commons Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee also launched an inquiry: Responding to Covid-19 and the Coronavirus Act 2020. The aim of this inquiry is set out as follows:

The Coronavirus Act 2020 was emergency legislation passed by Parliament on 25 March, to provide the Government with the powers it wanted to tackle the Covid-19 pandemic in the UK.

Under section 98 of the Act 2020, every six months there is “parliamentary review” which means that the Government must, so far as is practicable, make arrangements for the following motion to be debated and voted on: “That the temporary provisions of the Coronavirus Act 2020 should not yet expire.”

PACAC is launching an inquiry to scrutinise the constitutional and public administration aspects of the Act, with the goal of supporting and informing that debate.

It has issued a call for evidence but has not to date arranged for any meetings or hearings.

For links to all these inquiries see:

The Justice inquiry is at https://committees.parliament.uk/work/254/coronavirus-covid19-the-impact-on-prison-probation-and-court-systems/

The House of Lords Constitution Committee is at https://committees.parliament.uk/work/298/constitutional-implications-of-covid19/

The evidence of Profs Susskind and Genn is at https://www.parliamentlive.tv/Event/Index/0f0810d1-9489-4506-9108-139f6d4f221e

The PACAC inquiry is at https://committees.parliament.uk/work/310/responding-to-covid19-and-the-coronavirus-act-2020/

All evidence sessions held by Parliamentary Committees can be accessed at https://parliamentlive.tv/Commons.

Prison Reform: the Prison and Courts Bill 2017

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The Prison and Courts Bill 2017 is a major piece of proposed legislation which aims to give effect to major reforms of both the prison service and the work of courts and tribunals.

The note deals with the first item – reform of the prison service.

The main policy objectives for prison reform were set out in the White Paper Prison Safety and Reform which was published in November 2016 and noted in this blog on 23 November 2016.

A good number of the proposed reforms do not actually require new legislation. They can be achieved by changes to the ways in which prisons are run, or by changes to the Prison Rules. But key changes do require legislation. These are dealt with in Part 1 of the new Bill.

The major changes may be set out as follows:

  1.  The Bill will create a statutory purpose of prisons and updates the existing duties of the Secretary of State in relation to prisons (amending those created in the Prison Act 1952 (“the 1952 Act” ))

    The Bill provides that “in giving effect to sentences or orders of imprisonment or detention imposed by courts, prisons must aim to—

    (a) protect the public,

    (b) reform and rehabilitate offenders,

    (c) prepare prisoners for life outside prison, and

    (d) maintain an environment that is safe and secure.”

  2. It also imposes a duty on the Secretary of State to make an Annual Report to Parliament on the work of the prison service, measured against the criteria set out in the Bill.
  3. It creates Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons, comprising Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Prisons (an existing statutory office) and staff who carry out functions on the Chief Inspector’s behalf, places additional reporting requirements on the Chief Inspector in relation to prisons, and provides powers of entry and access to information to facilitate the exercise of the Chief Inspector’s statutory inspection functions in relation to prisons.
  4. It establishes the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman (“PPO”) – currently a non-statutory appointment – as a statutory office, and provides the Secretary of State with the powers to add its remit.
  5. In relation to prison security, the Bill will enable  public communication providers (“PCPs”) – for example, mobile phone network operators – to be authorised to interfere with wireless telegraphy to disrupt the use of unlawful mobile phones in custody.
  6. It also  makes provision for the testing of prisoners for psychoactive substances (as defined in the Psychoactive Substances Act 2016) within prisons.

For further detail about this Bill and links to relevant material, go to https://www.gov.uk/government/news/prisons-and-courts-bill-what-it-means-for-you

 

 

Written by lwtmp

March 8, 2017 at 10:51 am

Posted in Chapter 5

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Reforming prisons

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One of the most intractable issues in the criminal justice system is enabling prisons do more to try to draw offenders away from a life of crime and to become more productive and engaged citizens.

In the Queen’s Speech, delivered on 18 May 2016, the announcement of a new Prisons Bill was made. The details are not yet available but at the heart of the reforms are proposals to significantly improve educational opportunities for inmates – and to give Prison Governors more autonomy over how they run their prisons.

Accompanying the text of the Queen’s speech was an announcement that in the short-term 6 pilot ‘trailblazer’ reform prisons would be established to test the effectiveness of new approaches. The intention is that 5000 prisoners should be in the reform prisons by the end of 2016.

The importance of education of prisoners was emphasise in a review, published at the same time by Dame Sally Coates.

For further (preliminary) information on reform prisons see https://www.gov.uk/government/news/biggest-shake-up-of-prison-system-announced-as-part-of-queens-speech

The Coates report can be found at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/unlocking-potential-a-review-of-education-in-prison

The big challenge, noted by many commentators, is how such reforms can be made effective given the large numbers of people currently detained in prison. Many think that it will be essential for numbers in jail to be reduced if those who would really benefit from the reform proposals are to be helped.

 

Written by lwtmp

May 20, 2016 at 5:56 pm