Another helping from last weeks ministerial pep talk to MoJ staffers. The contribution from the odious Simon Hughes MP is particularly cringe-worthy:-
Chris Grayling: Well good morning everyone, thank you Ursula, and now this is another occasion for us to have a bit of a discussion but I wanted to start first of all with some thank yous and then hand over to my ministerial colleagues to do the same. We’re lacking Mike Penning who is out of town and Shailesh Vara who’s – who’s ill today but you've got most of the ministerial team today.
I really wanted to start with a big word of thank you to all of you for the work that you've done over the last few months. The department’s I think made some real progress in a number of areas, er, and each of us is going to talk in turn about a bit of the work that’s being done in our own areas.
But I wanted to touch on a couple of things in particular if I might. First of all I want to say massive congratulations to everybody involved in Transforming Rehabilitation. This is the programme that virtually nobody else in Whitehall thought was deliverable. And yet last Monday it started, the transition was smooth, we now have the new CRCs in operation, we are now rolling out the resettlement prisons, and crucially, anybody who commits a crime today gets taken off to court, gets a short prison sentence, when they come out for the first time will not be walking the streets with £46 in their pockets but will actually be getting proper support and supervision for a twelve month period.
Now that is a massive change for our justice system. It is closing one of the loopholes I've never been able to find anyone who would defend, and an awful lot of people thought it couldn’t be done. It has been done, it is happening now and there's a team of people in this room who made that possible and I am really grateful to all of you. You all deserve a massive pat on the back. Don’t feel ashamed about nudging a few of our friends in Whitehall to tell them what you've been doing because this is something that should look really good on your CV, it is a massive transformation programme that’s been delivered as planned, by a team of people I know worked long hours over a long period of time and I'm really grateful to you, you deserve a massive pat on the back. You have made a real difference. I'd also like to say a big word of thanks to the team working on the Global Law Summit. Now this is not an MOJ project, it's being run by a number of different organisations, the City of London, the Bar Counsel, the Law Society, UKTI, with involvement from us, but we have, within this department, played a big role in the last few weeks in making sure it comes together. And particularly making sure we get a good slate of international guests.
We have representatives at government level coming from 60 countries now. Nearly a hundred Justice Ministers and Attorneys General, and the team have worked on getting all of that together, and indeed are still working hard on getting all that together. Again I'm really grateful to you, that’s tremendous achievement, it will be a great event to celebrate the Magna Carta.
But it's actually become more than just a point of legal discussion, it's become a major intergovernmental event as well and I'm very grateful to all of you.
Couple of other teams I'd just like to make mention of as well if I might. First of all the team working on legal aid reform. We haven't got there yet, but there's a huge amount of work being done and a lot of effort again being put long hours dealing with court cases, dealing with many very complex and technical issues. You have made real progress, we've achieved most of the savings that we needed to achieve. It's been stormy and bumpy on the way, but I'm really grateful to all of those who have been involved.
And the last group I want to make mention of are the ones for whom the work is really now starting. And that’s the team working on court reform. This is a big challenge for us for the future, it's essential to the department’s future, it's probably now become our most significant change programme, the transformation of the court estate, court IT, court working practices, backed by a very substantial capital investment, which should create a more user friendly court system and at the same time make our court system much more cost effective.
It's essential for the department. It is going to be a lot of work, but I'm grateful to all of you for the work that’s been done so far and I'm looking forward to working with you as – as this goes forward. Hopefully I should be back in May, carrying on working on er, that project.
But really the last thing I wanted to say before I handed over to the ministerial team - we’ll probably do one more of these get togethers before the election - but it has been and continues to be a matter of enormous pride to me to lead this department. There is a team of really great people who work very hard in a whole variety of areas, I've just touched on four of them for now, the others will touch on some of the rest.
I hope every one of you feels proud to be part of this department. Yes it's difficult times, yes there are concerns and challenges, and yes it's sometimes been very difficult but the team of people in this room have risen to the task, with great aplomb and great dedication and I'm very proud of what you've achieved and I feel privileged to have worked with you all and hopefully to carry on working with you all for some while to come.
But thank you for all that you've done, and I'm now going to hand over to the ministerial team in turn to say a bit about their own areas. So first of all I'll pass to the Minister of State, Simon Hughes.
I wasn’t able to be at the last one of these because I was doing something formally for the department. Can I just say it is an absolute privilege to do a job in the Ministry of Justice, as somebody who has had a justice interest since I first did my law degree. I couldn’t have wanted, if I'd been given the opportunity to come to any department more, and it's been a privilege to be here. And a privilege to work with you and I'm proud of that, and honoured to have done that.
And it's been a real joy and excitement and challenge and stimulus to work with the Secretary of State and my colleagues, and with the Permanent Secretary and others, with my private office who have been fantastic, some have gone on to other things, I don’t think it was because they wanted to escape from my private office, but it was all in the career advancement, but with all of you thank you very much and it's good that I know lots of you already.
And those I haven't actually seen beavering away, I apologise for that, but you probably don’t want ministers looking over your shoulders all the time.
Just a few things as well, I'll be brief because we’re keen to have questions and answers and not just talk at you. Firstly, can I just endorse absolutely what the Secretary of State said about Transforming Rehabilitation. Chris, it is – it is a commitment of both coalition parties and it absolutely needed to be done.
And if we can manage to support people on release from short periods in prison in a way that we don’t have the recycling and – of reoffenders we will not just hugely improve their lives and the lives of their victims and save the tax payer money, but have a much more successful society. So I'm – I'm absolutely clear that it was the right thing to do and we were right to do it and it will now be delivered and I believe we will see the difference, and we’ll have a very different justice system thereafter.
I've had the privilege of looking after women offenders in the criminal justice system, that’s been a real privilege too, we have some really excellent women’s prisons, we have excellent leadership in them, I'm going to Drake Hall tomorrow, I will have been to all of those at least once, by the end of this term, I've seen really, really positive work and I'm really grateful for the team, I've driven them hard.
We had an event, I went to Styal on Thursday and we opened an open unit outside the fence, and we then had an event in Manchester Town Hall where people from all the other metropolitan areas of England came, plus from Greater London, because they’ve worked out in Wales and in – in the north west how to link local authorities and the probation service and the health service and all the agencies to make sure that when women leave prison they don’t slip back immediately for lack of housing or lack of training and employment opportunities or because their relationships with their children and their families have broken down, and we've got to have a much more joined up system.
My view, we need to prevent many people who are in prison from being in prison, Secretary of State and I have worked together with other colleagues to try to address the mental health needs of people in prison, but we need to make sure that we don’t leave people to fend for themselves in a way that is not joined up afterwards, so thank you very much to that big team.
Secondly we've reformed the family courts since I have been in the department, not by any means all my work, mostly other people’s significant work, it has made a huge difference now that we have integrated family justice. Yes there are challenges, yes as always there are litigants in person, but there have always been litigants in person. We've brought down the time people wait for decisions about children to be taken, really important.
We have one united court system, we've introduced mediation incentives and people are now going to medication, I'm very keen we have many more people going to mediation rather than a contest in the courts across the floor of the court. I'm also clear that whether it's public law or private law, the job of the court system is to be a place where people resolve disputes and don’t have disputes spinning out to make their lives more difficult. People who have relationship breakdowns have hard enough times, and the justice system should be there to support them in readjusting their lives, particularly the vulnerable.
I made a very clear decision that children from the age of ten should have a voice in the future of their families when the family breaks up and that is now being delivered in a way that’s appropriate, but children and young people must be able to have a say about what happens.
I'll just very briefly flag up the other things, we've done lots of work on freedom of information and data protection, I hope the regulation that we want will be delivered in Europe before the election but if not, effectively organised before the election, Secretary of State and others have been seeking to push that.
Freedom of information is very important to both coalition parties in the government, I'm delighted that this very week, next week, any day, we’ll be delivering freedom of information, regulation with Network Rail, I think the public actually will find that very valuable and Network Rail might get a few questions asked of them, because it's really important, that transparency of government is very important so thank you to those who help answer the FOI requests, and those people who help us with PQs and all the other things, really important.
We have a fantastic digital team which probably does as good a job as any government department and is the leader, Secretary of State said we’re gonna have to concentrate on court reform, we are, one of the things we need to do is have a really effective digital relationship between, individuals and the court process so that we can be much more streamlined and efficient.
Just two last things to signal. Coroners and burials are under my wing specifically, the coroner’s courts are not ours in the sense that coroners are appointed by local authorities as you all know, but the team who’s worked with me have worked with me to make sure that coroners’ courts are much more sympathetic than in the past some of them have been. I know from my own personal experience in our family, I know from being the MP for the Marchioness victims that the coroners’ system could be a nightmare, it must not be a nightmare and we must make sure that if people need coroners’ services at the weekend or er, out of hours that that’s delivered and delivered effectively.
Lastly, there are loads and loads of people who support us in things like, human rights and other things which are sort of smaller items on the agenda of the work we do. There are differences between us in the coalition about the constitutional structure on human rights, there is not a difference between us, which is why the Global Law Summit is important, on making sure that the rule of law, good justice, good practice, non-corrupt judges, is spread around the world and we are committed absolutely across the coalition to working with those in other countries to help deliver the best of British justice in countries which have a long, long way to go, and I'm really grateful for the team who help us do that.
Thank you very much.