Justice Committee: unfinished business from the 2015 Parliament Contents


The purpose of this Report

1.The House of Commons agreed on 19 April 2017, by the requisite majority under section 2 of the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011, to a motion in the name of the Prime Minister that there shall be an early parliamentary general election. This will bring the 2015 Parliament to an abrupt conclusion, with dissolution taking place on 3 May to enable an election to take place on 8 June. Like other select committees, the Justice Committee is in the middle of a busy work programme, with a number of inquiries in progress at various stages. In addition there are other matters which we have been pursuing, and in some instances preparations were well under way for holding specific evidence sessions or making visits in connection with inquiries or other work. The purpose of this Report is to explain what we have done, or were planning to do, in relation to all this “unfinished business”. We hope this Report is useful to all those who follow the Committee’s work. We also hope it will be of assistance to the new Justice Committee which will be set up at the start of the 2017 Parliament, when it comes to consider the priorities of its work programme. We do not expect a formal response from the new Government to this Report.

2.We would like to take this opportunity to thank all those who have contributed to our work in the course of the brief Parliament just ending. Our gratitude extends to those who have provided us with formal written or oral evidence, as well as people who have met the Committee and its members informally, and engaged with us in our work by email, correspondence or through social media.

3.We annex to this Report tables containing our analysis of the recommendations which we have made in the Reports we have published during this Parliament, indicating whether they were accepted or not by the Government and, if accepted, whether they can be said to have been implemented. We hope this information will be of use to our successor Committee and to the next Government in their work.


4.We recently conducted two short inquiries into the consequences of Brexit. Our Report Implications of Brexit for the justice system evaluated these, and options for future engagement with the EU, on matters of criminal justice, commercial and family law and the legal services sector.1 Our other Report Implications of Brexit for the Crown Dependencies considered the ramifications of Brexit for Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man (all of whose relationship with the UK is managed by the Ministry of Justice) and the mechanisms for representing their interests throughout the process.2 We published both reports before the Prime Minister formally notified the President of the European Council of the UK’s intention to leave the EU under Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union in late March.

5.We expect Government responses to both our Reports to be made early in the new Parliament. With Article 50 having been triggered, the Brexit process will have great significance in the coming years regardless of the complexion of the next Government: its implications for the justice system and the Crown Dependencies are worthy of continuing and active scrutiny by our successor Committee.

Prison reform

6.The Government announced a range of legislative and non-legislative reforms to prisons in the Queen’s Speech of 18 May 2016, describing these as “the biggest shake-up of the prisons system since the Victorian era”.3 Governors would be given “unprecedented freedom”, and “old and inefficient prisons” were to be closed and new ones built.4 Elements of the reforms were first introduced in six ‘reform prisons’, established in July 2016; their governors were given extensive powers to run their own prisons.5 The Prison Safety and Reform White Paper, published in November 2016, described the reform prisons as “trailblazers” and set out the Government’s plans to give governors of private and public sector prisons in England and Wales more powers and to emphasise rehabilitation in prisons.6 The Prisons and Courts Bill, introduced to the House of Commons on 23 February 2017, included provision to “reform and rehabilitate offenders” as part of a new statutory purpose for prisons.7

7.We announced a wide-ranging inquiry into prison reform in July 2016 to scrutinise and influence this reform programme as it was being developed and implemented. As part of this major inquiry, we aimed to scrutinise specific aspects of the reform programme through several focused ‘sub-inquiries’. Our report on our first sub-inquiry into governor empowerment and prison performance was published on 7 April 2017.8 We considered the first set of policies to take effect from April onwards, including proposals to give governors powers to design workforce strategies, manage budgets, and commission education services, and proposals to change how prison performance is measured and managed.9 We supported the principle of governor empowerment in principle, but concluded that the Government had not provided enough information about the practical implications of the reforms, and we tried to identify potential risks that would need to be mitigated. In a letter we received after we agreed the report, the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Prisons and Probation, Sam Gyimah MP, provided some additional information, for example about the use of pay supplements for staff.10 We would expect the Ministry of Justice to provide a formal response to this Report to the next Justice Committee early in the next Parliament.

8.Our second sub-inquiry, into estate modernisation, was launched on 30 March 2017. The White Paper included plans to close old prisons and build new ones, and the Secretary of State, Rt Hon Elizabeth Truss MP, announced on 22 March that planning applications had been made for four new prisons.11 We asked for written evidence on questions around these proposals, including on how new prisons could be built to enable them to fulfil the statutory purpose proposed for them in the Prisons and Courts Bill; the appropriateness of the Government’s plans to dispose of old prisons, particularly given the heritage status of many Victorian prisons; and the Government’s engagement with stakeholders. The dissolution of Parliament has interrupted this sub-inquiry, for which we had set a deadline for written submissions of 7 May. We did not therefore get the chance to consider written evidence, or to arrange oral evidence sessions. We had aimed to publish a report on this subject before the summer recess of 2017. If the next Government continues with plans to modernise the prison estate, the next Justice Committee may wish to take up this line of work in order to subject this programme and the associated costs, which are likely to be significant, to an appropriate degree of scrutiny.

9.As a first for the Justice Committee, we have produced a Report on primary legislation before the House, giving our views on Part 1 of the Prisons and Courts Bill.12 As the basis for this Report we considered evidence we received as part of the wider prison reform inquiry, as well as written and oral evidence taken before the Public Bill Committee. Our original intention was to produce a Report to inform the House in time for the Bill’s report stage in the Commons. With proceedings on the Bill terminating at dissolution, that purpose can no longer be served, but if similar legislation is introduced in the new Parliament we hope our observations will prove of use. Whether or not similar legislation is introduced, we expect the next Government to publish a response to our Report in the normal way.

10.We have also continued to engage with the Ministry on prison safety, following up on the Prison safety report we published in May 2016.13 We concluded then that there was a relationship between staff reductions and the current crisis in prisons, characterised by increasing levels of violence and self-harm. We recommended that the Government should produce an action plan to address prison safety and share with us timely and detailed information on a range of safety indicators. Our efforts did result in better quality data being available, but it has remained difficult for us to properly scrutinise the effect of the Government’s efforts to improve the situation because we have not received all the information we repeatedly requested.14 We would urge the next Justice Committee to continue close scrutiny of the Government on prison safety, as this is likely to remain one of the key issues facing the Ministry of Justice.

11.We were also intending to launch further prison reform sub-inquiries into some of the topics covered by the strategies the Government announced in the White Paper, as and when these were published.15 The next Committee could take up these topics, assuming the next Government will continue to introduce reforms to the prison system.

12.During this Parliament we have visited a number of prisons to gain a greater understanding of the challenges and opportunities of prison reform, and we had further visits in the pipeline, to HMP Coldingley, HMP Parc and HMP Berwyn. We also planned to visit the Netherlands in June, to hear about the reasons behind the significant reduction in that country’s prison population in recent years, and to see how Dutch prisons promote rehabilitation.

Disclosure of youth criminal records

13.On 13 October 2016, we launched an inquiry into the system governing the disclosure of criminal records in relation to offences committed by people when under 18 years old. Written submissions were invited on the following:

In the light of our previous inquiry into young adults in the criminal justice system,17 we also welcomed views on whether the regime governing disclosure of such criminal records should be extended to apply to records of offences committed by older people, for example up to the ages of 21 or 25.

14.The inquiry on disclosure of youth criminal records received over 40 items of written evidence, including submissions from statutory bodies, academics, NGOs and campaigns, as well as from individuals directly affected by the disclosure regime. On 13 December 2016, we held a private seminar on this issue, which heard accounts from eight individuals who explained how they had acquired criminal records when under 18, and the impact of these records on their employment prospects and other aspects of their adult lives including access to higher education. We annex the notes of this seminar to this Report.

15.In relation to this inquiry, we held a single oral evidence session which took place on 15 March 2017.18 We took evidence from Christopher Stacey, Co-director of Unlock and Ali Wigzell, Chair, Standing Committee on Youth Justice; these witnesses were followed by Dr Phillip Lee, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, Ministry of Justice; Sarah Newton MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Vulnerability, Safeguarding and Countering Extremism, Home Office; and Mr Christian Papaleontiou, Head of the Public Protection Unit, Home Office.

16.Should our successor Committee wish to pursue an inquiry on this topic, it would have the benefit of the evidence we have heard and received, including the notes of the private seminar held in December 2016. The anticipated judgment of the Court of Appeal in the case of R (P and A) v Secretary of State for Justice, which was heard on 24 February 2017 and concerns the rule mandating disclosure of multiple offences on an enhanced check, would also be very relevant to any further work on this issue.

Personal injury/whiplash

17.In November 2016, the Ministry of Justice invited us to respond to its consultation proposals19 for reforming the claims process for personal injury (PI), in particular for road traffic accident (RTA)-related soft tissue injuries, the majority of which involve neck pain, or ‘whiplash’. On 7 February 2017, we held a one-off evidence session to inform our response, hearing from James Dalton, Director of General Insurance Policy at the Association of British Insurers and from Neil Sugarman, President of the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers (APIL).20 Before the session, we received a written submission from APIL and both organisations provided us with further written information afterwards.21

18.On 23 February 2017, the Prisons and Courts Bill was introduced to Parliament; Part 5 of the Bill set out reforms to the procedure for RTA related whiplash injury claims, including the introduction of a tariff of fixed compensation for whiplash-related PSLA and a ban on the settlement of such claims without medical evidence. The Government also announced that the small claims limit would be increased via secondary legislation to £5,000 for RTA-related PI claims and to £2,000 for other PI claims.22 On 17 March 2017, we launched a short inquiry into whiplash and the small claims limit with the aim of reporting during the passage of the Bill through Parliament; we invited submissions on the following issues:

19.We received nearly 80 written submissions to our inquiry, as well as having our attention drawn to a range of detailed responses to the Government’s consultation that had been published elsewhere. We anticipate that this body of evidence would facilitate the task of our successor Committee should it decided to conduct an inquiry into this topic.

Transforming Rehabilitation

20.In 2014, the Ministry of Justice divided the probation system—responsible for supervising, rehabilitating and resettling those on community sentences and those who have been in prison—into two parts. High-risk offenders are managed by a new public body, the National Probation Service (NPS); 21 Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs) are responsible for low- and medium-risk offenders. In 2015, the Government extended statutory rehabilitation to those serving custodial sentences shorter than a year, and expected CRCs to provide ‘Through the Gate’ services which would begin the resettlement process towards the end of the custodial element of a prison sentence. The then Government claimed that the Transforming Rehabilitation programme would increase innovation (by paying providers for delivering reductions in reoffending), reduce reoffending for short-stay prisoners, and “continuous support from custody to community”.23

21.The National Audit Office, Public Accounts Committee and HM Inspectorate of Probation identified a range of problems with the operation and funding of probation services as the reforms continued to bed in.24 These included for example, ICT problems, the level of involvement of the voluntary and community sector in delivery chains, lower than anticipated caseloads for CRCs, the operation of the payment mechanism, capacity issues related to the scale of change, and poor quality of some service provision.

22.The Government commenced an internal review of the reforms, known as the Probation Service Review, in summer 2016. We were told by the Permanent Secretary, Richard Heaton, in October 2016 that “pretty much everything” was within scope of the Review, including commercial barriers to delivery related to the charging levels, the fee levels and the reward mechanisms within the contracts as well as the capacity of the National Probation Service to deal with a higher than anticipated caseload.25 Mr Heaton also said that the Review could alter the way results in the payment by results element of CRCs’ pay would be measured, moving from a narrow focus on reoffending to a wider view including innovation and partnership working with other public sector organisations such as housing associations. Under its prison reform plans the Government was also seeking better to align performance measures for prison governors with those of probation providers and to achieve more integrated offender management.

23.Sam Gyimah MP provided us with more detail on the activity stemming from the review in a letter of 7 March.26 This included:

24.When it became clear to us that the outcome of the Review, and any resulting changes to the Transforming Rehabilitation system, were expected to be announced after April 2017, we decided to undertake some preliminary work to inform a possible decision to announce an inquiry once the Ministry’s position became clear.27 We took the approach of holding two preparatory evidence sessions in March 2017 building on discussions we had had with key stakeholders at a private informal seminar in November 2016. We heard from seven short panels of select and diverse witnesses each of whom were given broad lines of questioning examining the challenges facing the implementation of the reforms and potential solutions.28

25.Concerns about the operation of the probation system following the Transforming Rehabilitation restructuring are widespread and serious, and we consider that a close examination of the system should be a high priority for our successor Committee.

Other matters

26.Apart from our mainstream inquiry work, we had begun arrangements for a number of one-off evidence sessions to be held in the next six months. Our successor Committee may wish to resurrect any or all of these plans, which included:

27.We had requested information from the Government on delays in immigration and asylum tribunals and on their plans to produce post-legislative assessment memoranda in the period up to the end of 2018. These are also matters to which our successor Committee may wish to return.

1 Justice Committee, Ninth Report of Session 2016–17, Implications of Brexit for the justice system, HC 750

2 Justice Committee, Tenth Report of Session 2016–17, Implications of Brexit for the Crown Dependencies, HC 752

3 Ministry of Justice and Prime Minister’s Office, ‘Biggest shake-up of prison system announced as part of Queen’s Speech’, 18 May 2016, accessed on 19 April 2017

4 HC Deb, 18 May 2016, col 3

5 Ministry of Justice (PRF0074) para 12

6 Ministry of Justice, Prison Safety and Reform, Cm9350, November 2016, para 104

7 Prisons and Courts Bill, [Bill 145 (2016–17)]

8 Justice Committee, Twelfth report of Session 2016–17, Prison reform: governor empowerment and prison performance, HC1123. Our Chair made a statement on the floor of the House on publication of the Report: HCDeb, 20 April 2017, cols 821–5

9 Ministry of Justice, Prison Safety and Reform, Cm 9350, November 2016

11 HC Deb, 22 March 2017, col 550WS

12 Justice Committee, Fourteenth Report of Session 2016–17, Prison reform: Part 1 of the Prisons and Courts Bill, HC 1150

13 Justice Committee, Sixth Report of Session 2015–16, Prison safety, HC 625

14 In a letter to Robert Neill MP dated 28 February, the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Prisons and Probation, Sam Gyimah MP, cited data quality considerations, resource, and the sound production of statistics as reasons for not routinely publishing these indicators.

15 Ministry of Justice, Prison Safety and Reform, Cm 9350, November 2016

16 See inquiry page here.

17 Justice Committee, Seventh Report of Session 2016–17, The treatment of young adults in the criminal justice system, HC 169

19 Ministry of Justice, Reforming the Soft Tissue Injury (‘whiplash’) Claims Process: a consultation on arrangements concerning personal injury claims in England and Wales, Cm 9299, November 2016

21 Accessible on our webpages here.

22 Ministry of Justice, Part 1 of the Government Response to: Reforming the Soft Tissue Injury (‘whiplash’) Claims Process, Cm 9422, February 2017

23 Ministry of Justice and Home Office, ‘Policy paper: 2010 to 2015 government policy: reoffending and rehabilitation’, May 2015, Appendix 4: Transforming rehabilitation

24 See Public Accounts Committee, 17th Report of Session 2016–17, Transforming Rehabilitation, HC 484, September 2016; National Audit Office, Transforming Rehabilitation, HC (2015–16) 951, April 2016; and HM Inspectorate of Probation, Transforming Rehabilitation: Early Implementation 5, May 2016

27 HC Deb, 6 December 2016, col 110

28 Oral evidence taken by the Justice Committee on 21 March 2017 and 28 March 2017, HC 1018

29 National Audit Office, Investigation into the Parole Board, HC 1013, February 2017

30 See our publications here.

31 Ministry of Justice, Government Response to the Justice Committee’s Seventh Report of Session 2016–17: The treatment of young adults in the criminal justice system, Cm 9388, January 2017

26 April 2017