I'm sure I read a comment recently that implied the word going round MoJ HQ is that Chris Grayling is a 'busted flush' and would have been all for throwing the towel in, had it not been for his officials realising they'd got some basic arithmetic wrong where the number of SFO's were concerned. It got me thinking - there's been quite a bit in the media recently about our Justice Minister, starting with that surprising deal with the Saudis:-
The Jack of Kent blog has really taken up the issue and mightily irritated the MoJ with these questions:-
So yesterday I asked the press office of the Ministry of Justice questions about its £5.9 million “commercial” proposal to the punishment system Saudi Arabia (see here and here):
1. Can I please have a copy of the MoU signed between the Secretary of State and Saudi
2. Can I please have a copy of the commercial proposal put to the Saudis
3. Can you provide full details to what is to be offered to the Saudis under the commercial proposal
4. Can you provide set out the extent of the civil service resources which are to be used in the proposal
5. When is the proposal expected to be signed?
6. What are the answers to Amnesty’s questions as follows:
Beyond the usual aspirational language, can Chris Grayling demonstrate that Just Solutions international will actually be able to concretely improve detention practices in Saudi Arabia without becoming complicit in abuse?For example, is JSi going to be challenging and seeking to prevent abuses when it comes across malpractice, and indeed what human rights safeguards and training are going to be built into any programme?
7. What is the current budget for JSi [Just Solutions international, the (supposed) commercial vehicle being used by MoJ]?
8. Other than the mid-term report, what mention has there been of JSi in any official publications?
9. What is the headcount for JSi?
10. Who paid for the “.com” website for JSi and why is it not a “.gov.uk” website?
11. Why has the Secretary of State now said he is looking at the Saudi proposal carefully? What does this mean in practice?
12. Please set out the commercial experience/expertise of those engaged in the JSi project? A quick look at open-source sources reveals little or no commercial experience/expertise at all.
13. Please identify all private sector organisations/consultancies involved in the JSi project.
Today I had the response:
“At this point in time we have no further comment to add from what we said at the weekend on this issue: “A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said:
“Just Solutions international provides knowledge and expertise of prison and offender management services to international organisations and governments who work with offenders. It has been government policy for many years to work with overseas governments and help them develop their criminal justice systems, utilising that knowledge to bring funds to the public purse. JSi does not work with countries unless it is completely safe to do so and details of any contracts will be made public when agreed.”
This seemed odd, so I followed up asking why the MoJ was refusing to answer each of the individual questions I posed and, in particular, what was the reason why MoJ are not disclosing the MoU referred to here. The response:
“Sorry, we’re not going to give a running commentary on this.”I think we can safely say Jack of Kent will be like a dog with a bone on this one and we watch with interest as the MoJ spin doctors try and concoct some slippery answers.
Just as an aside, with all this emerging stuff about the MoJ suddenly wanting to help improve other jurisdiction's criminal justice systems, it's a shame nobody at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office gave them a call about a very embarrassing difficulty in the Crown Dependency of St Helena, as reported here in the Telegraph:-
St Helena child abuse: Foreign Office 'was warned British island couldn't cope 12 years ago'
The Foreign Office knew the British territory of St Helena “couldn’t cope” with child abuse as long ago as 2002 but failed to order an independent inquiry for 12 years, a retired senior civil servant has claimed. Ivy Ellick, a former head of public health and social services on the island, said she delivered the warning in a meeting with the British government. At least 20 children were sexually abused on the South Atlantic island, which has a population of only 4,500, during the years between the warning and the inquiry.Anyway, back to Grayling and that humiliating defeat over the prisoner book ban, as reported in the Guardian:-
Establishment paedophiles, including a social work manager who advised on child protection and a deputy manager of a sheltered accommodation complex, were not brought to justice. Both men were finally sentenced in the past two years. During this period, the Foreign Office repeatedly assured the United Nations that there was “no evidence” of sexual exploitation of children on the island, where seven out of 11 prisoners are child sex offenders. A new prison is being built that could accommodate up to one in 50 of the island’s men. The British government launched the inquiry, headed by Sasha Wass, the QC who prosecuted Rolf Harris, last year after whistleblowers detailed abuse and an alleged cover-up by the island’s government and the Foreign Office.
Ban on sending books to prisoners set to end
The Ministry of Justice is preparing to allow prisoners to receive books from their loved ones from early next month, following December’s high court ruling that the policy which prevented inmates from being sent books should be changed. Months of protests by campaigners against rules that restricted inmates’ access to books preceded the high court ruling on a test case brought on behalf of a prisoner with a doctorate in English literature. “I see no good reason, in the light of the importance of books for prisoners, to restrict beyond what is required by volumetric control … and reasonable measures relating to frequency of parcels and security considerations,” ruled Mr Justice Collins in December.
A court order, which needs to be implemented by 31 January, asks the Ministry of Justice to amend the “incentives and earned privileges” instructions, introduced in November 2013, which currently state that “the general presumption will be that items for prisoners will not be handed in or sent in by their friends or families unless there are exceptional circumstances”, effectively ruling out books from being sent to those in jail. The high court wants books to be removed from the category of items that can’t be brought or sent into prisons, in recognition of the fact that they are not a privilege.
This means that prisoners should be able to receive books from 1 February, following months of campaigning by free speech groups and authors. A Ministry of Justice spokeswoman would not confirm that the ministry will implement the ruling without appeal, but the Guardian understands that preparations are already underway for the department to abide by the terms of the court order.and that astonishing interview with ConservativeHome:-
Chris Grayling is the first Lord Chancellor for 440 years not to be a lawyer, but bridles at the idea that this is in any way a drawback. He considers it, on the contrary, to be an advantage, for “it enables you to take a dispassionate view”, in which you do not “favour the bar or…the solicitors’ firms”.
Only when I transcribed the tape of this interview did I realise quite how astonishing Grayling’s remarks are. For by implying that no lawyer can as Lord Chancellor exercise impartial judgment, at least on any question affecting the legal profession, he appears to insult his many distinguished predecessors. Grayling believes that “people naturally fight for their own interests”. This view may be realistic, but is hard to reconcile with any idea of even-handedness, whether by a Lord Chancellor or by the judiciary.
It is a mark of how bad relations have become between Grayling and senior lawyers, and how annoyed he is by their attacks on his lack of legal expertise, that he has launched such a counter-attack. When the Conservatives were still in Opposition, he made a reputation for himself as an attack dog, and these abilities are here deployed against his critics in the House of Lords.And of course it's precisely because he lacks legal expertise, he's been regularly made to look such a fool in Parliament. Here's Ian Dunt on the Politics.co.uk website:-
Grayling hoist by his own petard in final judicial review debate
Some rather enjoyable moments in the Lords yesterday, as peers once again got a chance to debate Chris Grayling's reforms to judicial review. Lord Pannick, who has managed to greatly reduce the threat of these measures, played some clever little games with the lord chancellor, using his own words against him to diminish the force of the changes.
For some time, Grayling has insisted that he is not trying to dismantle judicial review. Instead, these reforms were just to deal with vexatious legal challenges based on "relatively minor procedural defects in a process of consultation". It was nonsense, of course. The reforms would have robbed anyone who was not supremely rich from pursuing a judicial review and they still might. But that was Grayling's line – this was a minor reform to stop charities and pressure groups stopping government policy using tiny technical details.
And then Grayling had to back down a bit. After misleading the Commons himself on judicial discretion in these cases, he introduced an amendment on the so-called 'highly likely' test (explained in detail here). Now the cases could still proceed if the judge decided there was an "exceptional public interest".
As Lord Pannick said, it would have been better if the concession "be drafted in more generous language", but the principle was established: "It will be for the judges to decide how and when that test should apply."
Then Lord Pannick proceeded to show why it is dangerous for ministers to underplay what it is they are trying to do where judicial discretion is concerned. Because Grayling is now on record, in parliament, saying that these reforms are only for minor points of technical law. That suggests 'exceptional public interest' should therefore be interpreted as anything more substantial than that.The Left Foot Forward website has some evidence that shows traditional Tory voters are getting very jittery about Grayling:-
‘Failing Grayling’ could cost the Tories hundreds of thousands of votes
82 per cent of people in the legal sector say they would be more likely to vote Conservative in the general election if Justice secretary Chris Grayling was replaced. The poll was conducted by new social networking site www.mootis.co.uk which focuses on the legal services sector. Many of the 350,000 people working in this sector are traditional Tory voters, a fact which is sure to send warning signals to David Cameron.
Grayling was defeated at least seven times in the courtroom last year, over policies aimed at reducing compensation for asbestos victims, cutting legal aid and banning books in prison. Prior to this losing streak, Grayling’s career has been marked by controversies, including a scandal over expenses claims and a botched set of statistics on violent crime. In 2010 he was named ‘Bigot of the Year’ by gay rights charity Stonewall after he was recorded saying that B&B owners should have the right to bar gay couples.
Grayling is the first Lord Chancellor in 440 years who is not a trained lawyer. Mootis Chairman Bill Braithwaite QC said that it was clear that the vast majority of legal sector workers ‘are fed up of Grayling and are prepared to turn their back on the Conservatives if he remains as Justice Secretary’.But I'll round this off with a belter of a blog by former Tory MP and barrister Jerry Hayes that amply demonstrates the esteem in which Grayling is held, both within the legal profession and normally Tory faithful. Enjoy!
GRAYLING'S ATTEMPT TO CURTAIL JUDICIAL REVIEW SHOWS HE PUTS THE DICK INTO TAT. THIS IS ONE SHIT THAT WILL HAVE TO BE FLUSHED AFTER THE ELECTION
If we were not a few weeks away from an election Chris Grayling would have been ventilated from office. The man is incompetent and a disgrace. I have bored you enough about how he is dismantling our system of justice, destroying the independent bar and plans to close down the family solicitor and replace them with G4s, (under investigation), SERCO (under investigation) and Co-op law ( say it with Flowers). His department has been judicially reviewed so many times and spent so much time in the High Court that it is amazing that they haven’t put in a right to buy. It is not surprising that he wants to limit it.
Just a quick word for the uninitiated. We are governed by statutory instruments which usually go through on the nod, or late on a Thursday night in the Commons when nobody can be arsed to be there. They affect all of our lives as they determine how government departments are able to operate. In other words, within the law. So if your kid has been deprived of a school place, or some dreadful development has suddenly appeared out of nowhere and the government hasn’t obeyed the rules laid down by Parliament you can toddle off to the the High Court and try and persuade a senior judge that you are not being vexatious or frivolous. And it is a rigorous sifting process. We call it the rule of law.
But according to Grayling all this is the wicked work of smelly socked swampy types. Bloody lefties. The rule of law, like freedom is so precious that it has to be rationed. Grayling puts the dick into tat.
So when you have such lefties as former Lord Chief Justices, former Tory Cabinet ministers defeating his Putinesque bill in the Lords as they have ‘a chilling effect on British justice’ and you have Law Lords like Lord Pannick warning that ‘The Lord Chancellor’s remarks on judicial review demeans the office’ it really is time to be deeply concerned.
But there is really something Gothically comic about the Grayling mind set. He set up dear old Lord Faulks (an opponent of the Grayling legal carnage before he took up office) to come up with a killer argument in the debate. That judicial review had to be curtailed as the development of a supermarket had been delayed by six months! My God these bloody lefty fat cat lawyers are really taking the Lidl. Grayling really is off his trolley after all.
Somehow I think that not enough government time will be found to reverse this welcome Lords defeat. But after the election when Cameron returns to Downing Street Grayling is a shit which will have to be flushed.