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The Minister for Borders and Immigration (Mr. Phil Woolas): I write today to inform the House of changes we are making to the way in which we register initial asylum applications and further submissions, where someone whose appeal rights have been exhausted asks us to re-examine their claim on the basis of further information or a change in their personal circumstances.
In February 2003 we announced that anyone wishing to make an asylum claim would need to do so in person, and postal applications for asylum would no longer be accepted. We expect individuals to make their claim at a port of entry, where they will be screened and any request for support will be considered. This change was made as part of our reform of the asylum system and has ensured that applications are gripped at the beginning of the system, identity of the applicant is verified and cases are routed quickly to the responsible caseowner to progress the case.
Since then, we have made great progress in processing asylum applications as quickly as possible. We reached our target of concluding 60 per cent. of new asylum cases within six months in December 2008 and we continue to set ourselves challenging targets for the conclusion of cases. We have also been working closely with the UNHCR to improve the quality of our decision making.
There are, however, parts of the system where information is not gripped as quickly, and it is this we are seeking to address with the changes we will make today. When applicants have exhausted their appeal rights, they often provide further submissions asking us to reconsider their claims. Currently, individuals can still make their further submissions by post.
From 14 October, anyone wishing to make a further submission will need to do so in person by appointment, and we will stop accepting further submissions by post. The following arrangements will be in place:
those who claimed asylum before 5 March 2007, and whose case is being managed by CRD, will be required to make any further submissions by appointment and in person at Liverpool Further Submissions Unit;
those who claimed on or after 5 March 2007 will be required to make any further submissions in person at a specified reporting centre in their region.
From 14 October, it will no longer be possible for initial asylum applications to be made in Liverpool, and anyone wishing to make an initial asylum application in country will be required to do so in person at the Asylum Screening Unit in Croydon.
The Minister for Borders and Immigration (Mr. Phil Woolas): I am pleased to announce that provisions in the Identity Cards Act 2006 are being commenced as from Tuesday 20 October 2009 so as to enable applications to be made for identity cards at a fee of £30. This will apply to people working in the Home Office, the Identity and Passport Service and elsewhere who are engaged on work relating to the issue of identity cards, and will be extended later in 2009 to residents of Greater Manchester and airside workers at Manchester and London City airports and in early 2010 to other locations in the North-West.
Since this Government introduced ASBOs in 1998 there have been real changes in how people feel about ASB-17 per cent. of people felt that levels of ASB in
their areas were high in 2008-09 compared to 21 per cent. in 2002-03. The tools and powers introduced by this Government over the last 11 years are working: the 2006 NAO report on anti-social behaviour found that 93 per cent. of people desisted from ASB after the third intervention. A significant package of practitioner support has also been provided including workshops, the ASB telephone ActionLine service and the ASB action website.
I am determined to ensure that we continue to improve our response; tackling, not tolerating ASB. Too many people continue to suffer at the hands of a small number of individuals intent on behaving anti-socially.
Today, I am announcing a package of measures to improve the collective response to ASB. Action will be stepped up on tackling breach, on ensuring that minimum service standards are in place locally and on providing more practical help to victims and witnesses of ASB.
Improving local ASB services is key. There is a comprehensive range of tools and powers that local agencies can use to tackle ASB. These must be utilised fully and we will provide training on civil powers to local practitioners and others involved in tackling ASB.
Alongside this, we will step up action on breach of ASBOs. ASBOs are designed to inhibit the behaviour of perpetrators and protect victims and so we must ensure that, once given, they are enforced and any breach dealt with appropriately. The Office for Criminal Justice reform will write shortly to LCJB chairs to ask them to assess how effectively breaches are being dealt with, seeking assurance that swift and appropriate action is being taken in all cases which we plan to back up with new guidance. There will be an expectation that information from the original ASBO case will be taken into account before sentencing of breach. This will include a community impact statement where there is one. We are currently piloting the use of community impact statements in cases when an ASBO has been breached with a view to rolling the scheme out nationally. We will also legislate shortly to make parenting orders mandatory in cases where a child breaches an ASBO.
Local areas will also be encouraged to set and publicise minimum service standards over the next six months so that the public will know what to expect. These standards will vary from area to area, but at a minimum should cover a commitment from partners to:
reduce perceptions of ASB year on year;
take reported cases of ASB seriously; recording, investigating and keeping victims informed of action taken;
provide regular information to residents on what action is being taken to tackle ASB;
offer support and practical help to victims of ASB;
ensure an effective link between neighbourhood policing and neighbourhood management;
provide residents with a right of complaint to CDRPs/CSPs if effective action is not taken by local agencies through existing channels.
Targeted support and challenge will be provided to areas where more than 25 per cent. of the population think anti-social behaviour is a big or very big problem. Over the next three months we will offer support and develop individual solutions to local problems in these areas, reflecting the varying forms that ASB can take.
Central to renewed action on ASB, is the need to improve services to victims. I have announced an extension of the funding in "Justice Seen Justice Done" pioneer
areas, for new, local victims champions in the targeted areas. The role of the champions will be to promote the needs of ASB victims and coordinate local services to ensure victims receive the support and information they want and need. They will deliver a more intensive package in the areas where ASB perceptions are highest. We will also extend victim support services to all victims and witnesses of ASB in magistrates court and we will introduce a national training programme for ASB coordinators to improve their work.
This new set of measures will help improve the way local partners deal with anti-social behaviour. We must take concerted action now to get our response to ASB right. The perpetrators must face swift and appropriate action. And this must be delivered alongside adequate support for both victims, witnesses and the wider community. Local councils, the police, social landlords and other local partners must listen to their communities, understand their concerns and respond to them effectively.
The Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor (Mr. Jack Straw): I should like to inform the House that I have made the following appointment under schedule 1 to the Parliamentary Constituencies Act 1986:
The Honourable Mr. Justice Lloyd Jones re-appointed as Deputy Chair of the Boundary Commission for Wales effective until 31 December 2013.
The Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor (Mr. Jack Straw): It is 10 years since the Legal Services Commission (LSC) was established under the Access to Justice Act 1999. In that time there has been considerable change in the way that legal aid has been delivered, with a strong focus on ensuring that the people who need help most-the vulnerable in our society-have access to justice.
Legal aid expenditure amounts to £2.1 billion a year. This is comparably one of the most generous schemes in the world. Costs per head of population run at £38 per head(1) compared with £30 in Scotland, £36 in Northern Ireland and the following in comparable common law countries: £8 in the Republic of Ireland, £5 in Canada, £8 in New Zealand and £9 in Australia. In the current climate, it is even more important that this public money is managed efficiently and effectively. We have worked with the LSC to take necessary action to protect public funds and focus them on helping those in need.
One of the first steps is to conduct a review of legal aid and to consider ways in which the delivery of legal aid services might be improved. The Access to Justice Act (section 2) envisaged that the Government may eventually want to separate the Community Legal Service (CLS) and the Criminal Defence Service (CDS) to ensure that CLS resources are not swallowed up by the CDS and that the latter plays its full part in delivering an efficient and effective criminal justice system.
To review the existing delivery and governance arrangements of the legal aid system, and make recommendations that:
explore the separation of the CDS and CLS and options for doing so effectively and efficiently should that be the recommended way forward;
provide for effective and transparent financial management of both funds and their administration;
provide for effective ministerial accountability and policy direction in respect of both the CDS and CLS, while continuing to ensure that every application to the CLS and CDS funds are decided fairly, within the criteria, at arms length from Government;
identify appropriate delivery models for both the CDS and CLS and their relationship with the Ministry.
In addition to this review, the Ministry of Justice and the LSC are reviewing the current financial and governance frameworks to ensure that where there are any potential opportunities for immediate improvement, these are taken forward without delay.
(1) Costs per head for "legal aid" are shown as much lower in most mainland European systems but their costs are not comparable with common law countries because the systems are so different and many costs attributed to legal aid in common law jurisdictions are subsumed within the total costs of the judicial systems in mainland Europe-see European Commission for the Efficiency of Justice: European Judicial Systems.
The Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor (Mr. Jack Straw): The Government are committed to ensuring that everyone has access to justice and that justice is provided locally. We need to ensure that we have a modern court estate that is properly aligned to where services are needed, that the estate is efficiently utilised and that courts have the necessary facilities for victims and witnesses and to allow proper access for court users with disabilities.
The Government must always look to ensure there is an effective and efficient system to deliver justice so that we can continue to provide these vital public services at a level that offers real value for money for the taxpayer. Having carefully considered this, and following a recommendation from the HM Courts Service Board, I am today announcing our intention to consult on the closure of the following courts:
Bourne Magistrates Court
Bridport Magistrates Court
Cheshunt Magistrates Court
Cullompton Magistrates Court
Dorking Magistrates Court
Eastleigh Magistrates Court
Gainsborough Magistrates Court
Havant Magistrates Court
Launceston Magistrates Court
Leigh County Court
Louth Magistrates Court
Midenhall Magistrates Court
Minehead Magistrates Court
Sherbone Magistrates Court
Sleaford Magistrates Court
Stamford Magistrates Court
Wantage Magistrates Court
Wareham Magistrates Court
Wells Magistrates Court
Whitby Magistrates Court
Widnes Magistrates Court
The majority of these courts are currently significantly under utilised. Local representative groups, including members of the judiciary and HMCS staff, have been consulted and as a result decisions have already been taken not to list any work in these courts. In all cases there are alternative courts within a reasonable travelling distance where services will continue to be provided.
It is right that going to court should not place undue stress on the victims and witnesses of crime; Her Majesty's Courts Service has made significant improvements in the facilities for these court users over recent years, these improvements have helped to make giving evidence in court less stressful. We need to ensure that court buildings have suitable facilities for all court users. Many of the courts listed above do not have adequate facilities for victims and witnesses; in addition a number of the buildings do not allow adequate access for disabled court users. Due to the low utilisation rates and in some courts, physical constraints, I do not believe it would provide good value for money to spend taxpayers' money to bring these buildings up to the required standard at the taxpayers' expense.
I am keen to hear the views of court users and other interested parties; the consultation exercises will allow them to express their views on the proposals. I will make a decision on how to proceed after consideration of those representations.
Following an earlier consultation exercise on the future of Nelson County Court, I have decided that the court should be closed. I have come to that conclusion based on the arguments set out in the consultation paper and the view of the majority respondents that the court should close.
Today we are also publishing a discussion paper of the future provision of magistrates court in London. This paper is aimed at court users and other people affected by the provision of magistrates courts services in London having regard to the possibilities presented by virtual courts. It will form a basis for HMCS managers to discuss how magistrates court services should best be arranged to meet the needs of the communities they serve. The conclusions from this will form the basis of a formal consultation on a proposed way forward. The paper is available on the Ministry of Justice website (http://www.justice.gov.uk/publications.htm). Together these proposals set out a positive step forward to ensuring that HMCS provides sufficient accessibility whilst directing and prioritising its resources to where they most matter for the communities it serves.
The consultation documents and the response to the consultation paper on Nelson County Court will be published on the Ministry of Justice website. Copies will be placed in the Libraries of both Houses, and in the Vote Office and the Printed Paper Office.
The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Shaun Woodward):
I am pleased to announce the appointment of four new Commissioners to the Equality Commission
for Northern Ireland. Anna Carragher, Lyn McBriar, Dermot Nesbitt and Peter Sheridan took up office on 21 September 2009
Equality for all is at the heart of the Government's vision of a modern, fairer society. The Equality Commission is a key institution of the Belfast Agreement and plays a vital role in protecting and promoting equality for all members of our diverse society in Northern Ireland. The Commission is now marking its 10th anniversary and it is facing new challenges, not least working with an increasingly diverse, multicultural society in a testing economic environment.
I am confident that the four new Commissioners bring a wealth of knowledge, skills and understanding, helping the Commission to meet the challenges ahead and build on their considerable achievements over the past 10 years.
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