Today in Justice Questions I asked the Justice Secretary what she is doing to improve the numbers of prison officers recruited in our public prisons, and called on the Justice Secretary to hold an urgent review quality of pre-sentence reports for the courts following the Government's privatisation of the probation sector.
The number of frontline officers working in public-sector prisons has fallen over the last year, despite Ministry of Justice plans to recruit additional staff to help respond to the highest levels of violence, suicide and self-injury since recording practices began.
Statistics show that there were 14,689 frontline officers (full time equivalent) in England and Wales in June 2016, down from 15,110 a year earlier. This leaves prisons with barely more frontline staff than the lows of 2014, which prompted the Ministry of Justice to embark on a major recruitment exercise.
As the prison population has grown and frontline officer numbers have fallen, safety in jails has deteriorated significantly.
I took the opportunity to ask the newly appointed Justice Secretary what she had planned that differed from her predecessor in recruitment more people into the prison service.
This morning at Attorney General Questions I pressed the Government to look at the way the Serious Fraud Office is funded.
In my role as Shadow Solicitor General I asked Jeremy Wright, The Attorney General, about a report from HM Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate, published this week, which found that the current funding model for the Serious Fraud Office does not represent value for money for the taxpayer. The report also found that the funding model does not support long-term strategy or the building of capacity for the future.
My concern is that the Serious Fraud Office could be subject to decisions made on the grounds of funding, rather than decisions based on the need to combat fraud and bring prosecutions.
Today, I asked the Justice Secretary to take urgent action in tackling the prison crisis and to stop simply speaking about reform.
My question comes following the release of a prison report from Lewes Prison today which found that prisoners were being kept in their cells for 23 hours a day. A similar report released earlier this month from Wormwood Scrubs also revealed high levels of overcrowding, vermin and violence.
On Thursday 14th April I questioned Attorney General Jeremy Wright over the Government's poor performance to date on tackling and suing tax evaders in the UK. The Panama Papers came to the surface earlier this month and shone a light on the murky world of offshore tax avoidance and evasion. In the space of just over a week, Labour has forced the Prime Minister to come clean on his tax affairs and have HMRC admit that there have been just 11 prosecutions in the past 5 years for tax avoidance.
According to reports, the Panama Papers have 1,924 British companies implicated. The Government has announced a cross-Government taskforce on the Panama Papers with initial new funding of £10 million across 4 separate Government agencies. My question to the Attorney General was how can the public be confident in the Government's ability to crack down on tax evaders with Panama, given such a poor number of convictions so far.
Today I took the opportunity to ask the Justice Minister Dominic Raab what impact leaving the EU would have on the UK’s ability to protect victims of crime and as a result, the scope of the European Arrest Warrant.
Speaking up for victims of sexual assault and rape at Attorney General Questions
On Thursday 25th February I questioned the Solicitor General Robert Buckland MP on the failings of the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) in delivering a adequate level of care for victims. In its latest thematic review of Rape and Serious Sexual Offence units, Her Majesty’s Chief Prosecution Service Inspectorate found that the care given to victims of rape and sexual assault fell well short of what was is expected. It is clear that the Government needs to do far more to reduce instances of rape and domestic violence, as well as doing more to support victims.
Last week we heard from the Prime Minister about his hopes and dreams of prison reform for England and Wales, how he wanted to see “a modern, more effective, truly 21st century prison system”. He spoke of his optimism for rehabilitating prisoners into “potential assets” and his vision of reforming prisons so that they “empower staff, charities and businesses to innovate and try new things”.
Similarly at the weekend, Michael Gove and Chris Grayling, the current Justice Secretary and his predecessor, penned a joint article sharing their united vision of transforming the prison and probation service so that our prisoners “are kept safe and secure in decent surroundings, free from violence, disorder and drugs”.
No one would disagree with the ambitions behind this lofty rhetoric, unfortunately it is the same rehabilitation revolution the Tories have been promising since they came to power and, sooner or later, reality kicks in.
Since 2010 nearly ten thousand operational staff in prisons have been cut. Successful prisons were closed and thousands of prisoners were forced into overcrowded cells as a consequence. Violence has soared with serious assaults on staff doubling since 2012. And the Government has been warned time and time again by the experts that things are getting worse.
Earlier this week the Prisons Ombudsman said that staff were failing “to recognise or act” when prisoners demonstrated obvious factors, such as mental ill-health or a lack of experience of prison, that indicate that they are at heightened risk of suicide. He said that too often these led to “potentially fatal consequences” for the prisoners in question. This is the third time that the Ombudsman has made a warning like this in the last three years.
Then we saw a report from Her Majesty’s Inspectorate for Prisons on Leicester Prison which found conditions in one unit were so poor that it recommended closing it immediately as it was “not fit for human habitation”. The prison is over capacity by 50%, conditions have worsened since the last inspection in 2013 and the use of drink and drugs is rampant throughout the prison. Most disturbingly the staff often were unable to “account for prisoners” with it often found that “prisoners where they were not supposed to be”.
On the same day, we heard reports of prison officers refusing to unlock 300 inmates in protest over recent attacks on staff at Wetherby Young Offenders Institute. They say that there is inadequate risk assessment and safe systems of work in place to prevent these sorts of assaults happening. Considering how just last week Cameron praised prison staff as being “some of the most deeply committed public servants in our country”, you would think the Ministry of Justice would make their welfare and safety more of a priority.
The public and victims of crime need to have confidence that justice is being done, that offenders are being punished appropriately and rehabilitated, and that communities are being protected. Making prisons work is not only the right thing to do; it will save us money and make us all safer.
Yet again this week we’ve heard deeply worrying news concerning UK prisons. But we really need to hear more from the Prime Minister and the Justice Secretary than the same old tired rhetoric they’ve been spouting for years. We need to see concrete steps taken to address the scale of the crisis. The Conservatives need to realise that it is impossible to deliver the rehabilitation revolution they have repeatedly promised in prisons where some aren’t even fit for human habitation.
This story was originally written for Red Box at The Times and can be read here: http://www.thetimes.co.uk/redbox/topic/tory-policies/disgrace-over-prisons-not-fit-for-habitation
It’s been a very busy month for me in the Shadow Justice Team. On 26th January it was Justice Questions in the House of Commons. I took the opportunity to raise the statistic to the Minister for Prisons, Andrew Selous that Prison Service anti-riot squads were used on 339 occasions in 2015; which was an increase of 52% compared to 2014. Following from this, I asked Mr Selous if this statistic indicated to him that prisons are overcrowded and not fit for educational purpose.
You can watch the exchange here: https://youtu.be/M7Z7e9Ye-84
Original article referred to in my question: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3369281/Riot-squads-called-deal-violent-prisoners-single-day-past-year.html
Today in my new role as Shadow Solicitor General I questioned the Solicitor General, Robert Buckland MP, on conviction rates for rape, sexual offences and domestic abuse.
I asked the Solicitor General whether the UK Government will legislate with a Violence against Women and Girls Bill similar to that passed by the Welsh Assembly in 2015.
This week I have accepted the position as Shadow Solicitor General. The role of Shadow Solicitor General involves providing support to the Shadow Attorney General on civil litigation and advice on civil law matters and on the public interest function.
I will be combining my Shadow Justice Ministerial post with that of Shadow Solicitor General.
Prior to my election in May 2015 I was a solicitor and director of a national firm of trade union solicitors.