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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Bridget Prentice): Following a statement I made to the House on 26 July 2007, Official Report, column 103WS, and in agreement with my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Department for Children, Schools and Families, the Member for Cardiff, West (Kevin Brennan) and the Deputy Minister for Health and Social Services in the Welsh Assembly Government (Gwenda Thomas), I am delighted to inform the House that two key reforms to the child care proceedings system have today come into force in England and Wales.
The Public Law Outline has been introduced to replace the existing Protocol for Judicial Case Management in Public Law Children Act Cases. This is underpinned by revised statutory guidance to local authorities in England and Wales issued under section 7 of the Local Authority Social Services Act 1970 to support them in preparing care applications to the court.
Together these key reforms, which arose from the recommendations of the Review of the Child Care Proceedings System in England and Wales in May 2006, seek to ensure that vulnerable children involved in care cases have safety and stability in their lives and that decisions as to their future are made fairly and as speedily as possible. It is vital that all agencies work together collaboratively to establish safe, permanent and timely child focused solutions and reduce the stress caused by unnecessary delay in care proceedings.
In order to further inter-agency unity, a partnership of Government Departments and agencies commissioned Children Law UK to deliver training courses to support the introduction of the Public Law Outline and revised statutory guidance. Some 25 interdisciplinary seminars took place in England and Wales between January and March 2008, attended by nearly 2,000 people. Delegates included social workers, local authority legal advisers, legal practitioners, family court staff, and Cafcass and Cafcass Cymru staff. The seminars were delivered by family legal and social work experts who provided the attendees with the skills and knowledge necessary to cascade the training to their peers.
The revised statutory guidance places greater emphasis on the work undertaken by local authorities before care proceedings can commence. In particular, they are required to notify parents of their intention to make an application to the court and to set out the basis of their concerns and an outline of their future plans for the child. On receipt of this, parents have immediate access to non-means tested legal help from a solicitor, funded by the Legal Services Commission, with the aim of avoiding proceedings or narrowing the issues to be determined by the court.
Where cases do proceed to court, the Public Law Outline introduces a more streamlined court process (reducing the current six stages to four). It promotes
better quality applications through following the revised local authority guidance; requires timetables for the court process to be set which are focused on the needs of the children involved; and, introduces enhanced case management procedures which include earlier identification of the key issues leading to better targeted and effective use of experts evidence in those cases where it is required.
The final versions of the Public Law Outline and local authority guidance have been prepared with input from a wide range of stakeholders. A full public consultation on the revised statutory guidance was undertaken during 2007, while the Public Law Outline was tested in 10 care centres and their linked family proceedings courts selected by Sir Mark Potter, president of the family division, in consultation with relevant designated family judges. The experiences of the 10 initiative areas have played a crucial role in helping to inform both final versions of these key reforms, and the nationwide implementation plans.
The Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor (Mr. Jack Straw): The purpose of this statement is to advise the House as to changes I am making in respect of arrangements my Department makes for sponsoring the Parole Board, an executive non-departmental public body (ENDPB).
In its judgment handed down on 1 February in the case of Brooke the Court of Appeal ruled that, as a consequence of its current sponsorship arrangements, the Parole Board was not sufficiently independent of the executive to meet the requirements of article 5(4) of the ECHR. In reaching this conclusion the Court acknowledged that the Parole Board had evolved from an advisory body to a judicial body.
The Court of Appeal found that the Parole Board should not be sponsored by the National Offender Management Service as is currently the case and that the Secretary of State should ensure that the sponsorship responsibility for the board was placed in another part of the Ministry of Justice where its independence is not open to question. However, the Court of Appeal also ruled that the status of the board as an ENDPB is not incompatible with independence.
The Parole Board has an important role in determining whether to release some of potentially the most dangerous offenders within the criminal justice system. I fully recognise that its decisions in individual cases must both be and be seen to be free of interference by its sponsoring Department.
I have decided not to seek leave to appeal against the courts findings. Instead I have given careful consideration to how the Parole Boards sponsorship arrangements should be altered to meet the concerns of the court.
From 1 April sponsorship of the Parole Board will be transferred from the National Offender Management Service to the Access to Justice Group in the Ministry of Justice. Although responsibility for sponsorship of the Parole Board will remain within the Ministry, there
will be a clear separation between responsibility for the boards sponsorship and responsibility for the management of offenders.
The Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor (Mr. Jack Straw): Further to my statement on prison policy on 31 January 2008, Official Report, column 37WS, I am pleased to announce that the evaluation of the Dedicated Drug Court pilots has now been completed. Copies of this, the Dedicated Drug Court Pilots: A Process Report have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses, the Vote Office and the Printed Paper Office. The report is also available online at: www.justice.gov.uk/publications/research010408.htm
The Dedicated Drug Court model establishes a new framework in the magistrates courts in dealing with drug misusing offenders committing low level crime to fund their addiction, aiming to reduce their drug misuse and therefore their associated offending behaviour. The model makes use of specialist panels of magistrates or district judges to provide continuity when sentencing and reviewing offenders progress on drug treatment orders to completion or any breach, seeking to improve offenders motivation to stay in treatment and so reduce drug use and related offending
Pilots were launched at Leeds and West London Magistrates Courts in December 2005. An independent evaluation of these pilots has now been completed. The process report published today provides positive indications of the impact of continuity of judiciary on several key outcomes, including offenders being less likely to miss a court hearing, less likely to be re-convicted and more likely to complete their community order.
The Dedicated Drug Court model will now be extended to up to four more sites. This will allow the viability of the model to be tested in an increased number of sites and the conclusions of the current evaluation to be strengthened with evidence from an increased number of cases. The new pilot sites will be selected through consultation with the judiciary, court staff and other key partners and the pilots will commence in October 2008.
In January this year we announced the main principles of a partnership between us, as Lord Chancellor and Lord Chief Justice, in relation to the governance, resourcing and operation of the courts. A new framework document for Her Majestys Courts Service (Cm 7350) has today been laid before the House, which sets out our partnership in greater detail and gives effect to its provisions.
Our partnership builds on a series of recent developments including the concordat agreed in January 2004 between our predecessors, the creation of HMCS in April 2005, the Constitutional Reform Act 2005 and finally the creation of the Ministry of Justice in May 2007. The concordat contained provisions in paragraphs 24 and 25 for the engagement of the Lord Chief Justice and judiciary in the resourcing of HMCS. We have agreed that these provisions are superseded by the new and more extensive arrangements put in place by the HMCS framework document.
The new arrangements place the leadership and broad direction of HMCS in the hands of a new board with an independent non-executive chair. We are pleased to announce the appointment of Sir Duncan Nichol to this position with effect from today, for a period of three years. Sir Duncan has extensive experience in public service delivery within the justice system and more widely.
The founding principles of our partnership are a firm and shared commitment to the delivery of an efficient and effective 21st century justice system and upholding the independence of the judiciary. We look forward to working closely with Sir Duncan and the new board in achieving our shared aims and endeavours.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Jim Fitzpatrick): I am pleased to announce the broad objectives and specific ministerial targets for the Maritime Coastguard Agency for 2008-09. These are:
MT1. Conduct operational standards and training audits and secure year-on-year improvements in the average scores covering both exercise and individual assessment elements to maintain the quality of maritime emergency co-ordination and response by the Coastguard.
MT2. Helicopters tasked to respond to incidents will be airborne within 15 minutes during daylight hours and 45 minutes at night in at least 98 per cent. of cases.
MT3. Meet the internationally required target to inspect 25 per cent. of foreign vessels in UK ports under PSC arrangements, with an increasing emphasis on inspecting available ships judged to be high risk.
MT4. Maintain the quality of the UK ship register by reducing the level of deficiencies recorded on UK ships inspected abroad, and maintain a position on the Paris MOU white list which is comparable to registers of a similar size and reputation.
MT5. As a category 1 responder, continue to meet the provisions of the Civil Contingencies Act including increased engagement with Local Resilience Fora.
Seafarer Fatigueworking with the shipping industry and seafarer unions on a coherent strategy to reduce seafarer fatigue.
Fishing Vesselsworking with the fishing industry to improve the safety of small fishing vessels (under 15m).
Lifejackets working with the agencys partner organisations (including the Royal National Lifeboat Institute and the Royal Yachting Association), to promote the wearing of lifejackets within the leisure sector.
MT6 Respond promptly to potential and actual pollution from ships around the UK coast, drawing effectively on resources including our emergency tugs, and following the procedures set out in the National Contingency Plan.
Vessel Traffic ManagementIdentifying the future requirements of sea space management and the role the agency may perform.
Beyond these objectives and targets are the agencys service standards and measured outcomes. Together these measures cover all aspects of the agencys work and provide continual assurance about the quality of our performance.
The Minister for Women and Equality (Ms Harriet Harman): Last July I made a statement to the House setting out three key priorities for the Ministers for Women. One of these priorities is, tackling violence against women and improving the way we deal with women who commit crimes.
We have done a great deal to step up action against domestic violence, sexual offences and human trafficking, but there is more to do. Domestic violence still results in two homicides every week. It not only harms women but has a devastating impact on children. Human trafficking takes many forms and blights the lives of men, women and children in many different continents. Britain is a major focus for the global trade in the sexual exploitation of women by traffickers, who trick or abduct young women and force them into prostitution.
Today the Government is publishing Tackling Violence Against Women: A Cross-Government Narrative. This report draws together work being done across Government to tackle violence against women and responds to the
End Violence Against Women (EVAW) coalitions annual Making the Grade survey. EVAW campaigns work is a valuable part of the work to tackle violence against women, and I welcome both the challenge and opportunities which Making the Grade offers.
The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (James Purnell): On 14 March 2008, Official Report,vol. 473, column 30 WS, I announced my plans for implementing the flexible New Deal to build on the success of the existing New Deals for jobseekers it replaces, helping to underpin our objectives for full employment and eradicating child poverty. Based on our previous experience in implementing successfully the commercially delivered Pathways to Work in just two phases, I announced that we would adopt a similar approach for the flexible New Deal with phase 1 being delivered from October 2009 and phase 2 from October 2010.
Following further consultation between my officials and the Welsh Assembly Government I have decided to make changes to the phase 1 contracting arrangements as they will affect Wales so that there will be two contracts wholly within Wales.
|Phase 1||Phase 2|
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