The Ministry of Justice: Environmental Sustainability Contents


Key findings

The Ministry of Justice should be a leader across Government in reducing its environmental footprint and implementing the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). It has the second largest estate across central government, and has stated it wants “to embed sustainability in everything it does”. While we applaud this commitment, we found there are significant gaps and weaknesses in key areas, including no mention of the SDGs in its Single Departmental Plan.

For example, even though the Ministry has made progress in reducing its carbon footprint and waste, it has encountered difficulties with the purchase of paper since 2014–15 and missed its target on domestic flights and carbon reduction in 2014–15. Less than 1% of its fleet are ultra-low emission vehicles. Furthermore, the Ministry’s greening targets for 2019–2020 are not ambitious enough: the Ministry exceeded its carbon emission reduction target for 2019–20 in 2016–17 and was only 1% off on its 2019–20 waste reduction target in 2016–17.

In estate management, it is unacceptable that the Ministry failed to collect final BREEAM (Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method) certificates for 64% of its refurbishment and new build projects which means the environmental status of these buildings is unknown. Overheating is a significant issue for the Ministry- it received 497 complaints in 2016–17. If refurbishment and new built projects do not meet the required standards, the Ministry might incur substantial costs to improve conditions later on. Furthermore, the Ministry also incurred delays on its carbon reduction programme: it did not implement 13 of the 59 projects it had foreseen in 2016–17. And, while the Ministry has made improvements on its ten Sites of Specific Scientific Interest, only two of them are in a favourable condition.

In addition, the Ministry has not systematically undertaken environmental impact assessments for new policies and its sustainability strategies are mainly internal. In particular, it removed the fixed cap on fees for environmental court cases in 2017 in the face of widespread opposition and without providing robust evidence about its impact to Parliament. We recommend that the policy be reviewed in two years and reversed if the Ministry cannot provide firm evidence about its impact.

Finally, there are gaps in the Ministry’s governance and oversight arrangements, with senior management not being informed about sustainability incidents or issues on the estate, for example: a case where a contractor destroyed a nationally important protected orchid meadow; and on the Ministry’s performance against Government Buying Standards.


The Ministry acknowledged these gaps, and has started to improve its policies, guidance and oversight.

Our recommendations focus on 3 cross-cutting themes, which are:

In particular, we recommend that the Ministry sets out stretching greening targets for 2019–20, further develop its sustainability policies and set out how it will meet existing targets. We also urge the Ministry to improve its estate management, and systematically collect environmental rating certificates for all its refurbishment and new built projects. We ask it supports it staff better, including prison governors and the people involved in selling-off old courts and tribunal buildings, and provide guidance and oversight to contractors on how they should manage the estate sustainably, including the Sites of Specific Scientific Interest. We also recommend that the Ministry improve its oversight of sustainability matters within the Ministry, and that the Ministry shows leadership to the rest of central government in terms of sustainability.

29 January 2018