Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to this this [inaudible] event, it’s very nice to see so many of you here. In a moment, I’m going to have the great pleasure of introducing our new Lord Chancellor. Let me just say three things first.
First, a big thank you to everyone in this room and way beyond it, across the Ministry, who have worked so hard since we last met in this format, not just in transitioning and inducting new minsters, but also across the field in the various important public service we do. This is an immensely capable department and I’m very proud of the work you’ve done over the last few months, so thank you.
Second, I’d like to say a thank you, in his absence, to our outgoing Secretary of State, Michael Gove, who was, as many of you know, a true and, in some ways, visionary reformer, and thank you to all of you who helped to make his vision a reality.
But thirdly, and most importantly, it’s my great pleasure to introduce someone who I know you will hear very shortly is also a reforming Secretary of State, but is also the first woman Lord Chancellor. So I’m delighted to introduce – hang on, I’ve slightly missed something out – I’m going to introduce, in a moment, Liz Truss, but we also – you see on stage the supporting ministerial team: Sir Oliver Heald, MP for North East Hertfordshire, you’ll hear from in a moment; Sam Gyimah, MP for East Surrey; Dr Phillip Lee, MP for Bracknell; and Lord Keen, the Advocate General, who is going to be our spokesman in the Lords. So you’ll hear from all of them, but first of all great pleasure to introduce the first woman Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, Liz Truss.
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And, you know, justice is something I’ve worked significantly on in the past; I was a member of the Justice Select Committee. I think it’s an incredibly important part of government. The rule of law is at the heart of what it means to be British, and protecting the independence of the judiciary – important aspects of British justice, like trial by jury – and our legal system is very, very important to me. But also, the work that we have to do in reforming our prison system, in reforming our probation service, in reforming our youth offender institutions is also incredibly important.
Last week, Theresa May, our new Prime Minister, laid out her vision of a Britain that works for everyone, and everyone does mean everyone. And, of course, those who come into contact with the Criminal Justice System are often some of the most vulnerable in our society. We have very high rates of illiteracy in our prisons, as I’m sure everyone’s aware. And the agenda of prison reform is incredibly important. We need to make sure that people aren’t just being locked away, but also they are having the opportunity to get into meaningful activity, to become more educated so they can lead a better life on the outside. And that is good for them, but it’s also good for our society as a whole.
Of course, we do have some very important issues to deal with, in terms of prison safety, security, mobile phone usage, drug abuse, which I’m also very keen to tackle and get a handle on. And, in working on that, I’ll be working with prisons and probation minister Sam Gyimah, who’s got a fantastic record at the Department of Education. In fact, he and I have both done the same job at the Department of Education. And, you know, we are very keen to get on with that agenda, both in terms of explaining the philosophy and making that case, but also in delivering that on the ground, because no reform can take place without delivery, and there’s many people in this room who will be involved in that.
Secondly, the whole area of court reform is absolutely vital. We know that there are too many delays in the justice system. As I’ve mentioned, there are some very important parts of our system that have led the world in terms of legal systems and, of course, the judiciary, but we need to make sure that we’re at the forefront of modernisation. I’m a huge supporter of digitisation; I did a lot of work on it at Defra. Defra, in fact, is responsible for releasing a third of all government data and was rewarded as the most data‐driven department in government. But now –
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Richard doesn’t agree with that, but anyway I’m sure we can now exceed that here at the Ministry of Justice.
But also what I want to see is the senior levels of the judiciary and the legal profession open to more people from whatever background people are from, whether they’re a man or a woman, whether – whatever ethnic group they are from. And at the moment, at senior levels, there is still work to do. I know that the judiciary have made big progress but that is one thing that I will be focusing on, because people have to feel they’re part of our justice system. It is a system for everybody, it is our common law and I’m very keen to make progress on that front.
There’s also the whole area of the Ministry of Justice transformation. We do need to modernise the department; I know there’s a lot of work already underway on this. I think there’s more we can do to automate, to make sure that we operate in a system‐wide way, and that will mean that everyone in this room and beyond will be able to contribute even more to the outcomes that we want to see on the ground, whether that’s in terms of improving prisoner education, whether it’s in terms of improving our performance in courts. The more that we make sure our organisation is as modern as possible, operating as effectively as possible, that means we can deliver more reform on the ground.
I’m a great fan of the American naval motto, ‘Keep it simple, stupid.’ What I want to do is make sure that we focus on a few key priorities that we make sure we deliver those priorities, and we have the resources in the plan in place to deliver those priorities. I did have a look at the Ministry of Justice priorities; there’s quite a lot on the list at the moment and, you know, keeping it simple is important, so we all understand what we’re aiming at and what we’re doing.
So what I’m going to be working on, with the ministerial team, over the summer is really whittling down those priorities, making sure that we have the resources and the schedule in order to be able to do that, and making sure that we deliver on that. But so far I’ve, you know, very much enjoyed the first week or so. I’ve had a very warm welcome from all of the team at the Ministry of Justice, been really impressed by the speed and quality of work that I’ve seen here. So I think we’ve got a great opportunity, over the months and years, to make a huge difference in the country, and I’m very much looking forward to working with all of you. Thank you.
Good morning. I’m Oliver Heald, I’m the new Minister of State. I’m looking forward to dealing with court reform, justice reform, the crown dependencies, legal profession and, of course, legal aid. As a barrister for many years, I think we do have the best legal system in the country, but that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t need to be updated, that we need to use modern technology and to be efficient. And, when I was Solicitor General, we started on the project to digitalise the Crown Prosecution Service, we started to see the beginning of the work with the courts, and I’m absolutely delighted to be here and be able to support the Secretary of State and to help with that vital work. And I’d like to just join in the thanks for the welcome and for the excellent briefing I’ve had so far, so thank you very much.
Good morning everyone, can you all see me? Well, no, when I first got selected as a parliamentary candidate and I knocked on a door, someone said ‘Well, I expected tall, dark and handsome.’ To which my reply was, ‘One out of three is not bad.’
It’s a great pleasure to be here. Anyone – any minister or any politician who’s been through the reshuffle process can feel that sometimes it feels like pot luck. You sit there waiting for your phone to ring, or not ring at all in some cases, and then, when it rings, you wonder what you’ll get. And it’s really – it’s a real privilege to be in a department where what is being – what we’re trying to do here, in terms of prison reform, rehabilitation centres and all the reforms, is very much at the top of the government agenda.
It’s good to be working with a Secretary of State who has a proven track record for reform, but it’s also good to know that reform, as far as the Ministry of Justice is concerned and what you do, it’s not an option for us; we’ve got to do it. And so it's a great privilege to be in this job and I'm sure that working with you and the Secretary of State we'll be able to deliver what could be really transformational for our country.
The Secretary of State made the point that, if we want this as a government that works for everyone, then actually it's going to be for everyone, and it's in the prison system that I – when I look at it, we see some of our deepest social ills manifested. So if it’s going to work for everyone we've got to reform it and we've got to make sure that it works there. And I'm sure, working with you and the team here, we’ll be able to deliver. Thank you.
Good morning. My name is Richard Keen. Despite having the greyest hair, I have the least experience of anyone on this stage. I was in practice at the bar in Edinburgh in London in the areas of commercial law and public law until May 2015 when I was appointed the Advocate General for Scotland with responsibility for advising on Scots law and the divorce settlement. The Office of the Advocate General is in Dover House. We are extremely grateful to the Welsh office because without them we would be the smallest department in Whitehall.
It is tremendously exciting to move on to what is one of the great departments of state with such a diverse portfolio. And I really look forward to working with all of you and with the Secretary of State. Thank you.
Good morning everyone. My name is Phillip Lee. I'm surprised to be here at Justice. When I took the call, I thought, ‘Well, I'm a practicing doctor. What do I know about the Justice Department?’ In fact, in the first week that I've been here it's struck me that actually that my professional experience, and I've consulted between 60 and 70,000 thousand patients over the last 10, 15 years or so, quite a lot of whom are from socially challenged backgrounds. And it struck me in the first week – and I've got a pretty broad brief family law, youth justice, women offenders, etc. – it struck me actually that quite a lot of the people who are in that system, that my experience of dealing with those challenging communities will actually be of quite some value here particularly in the realm of mental health.
I'm privileged to have been appointed as a minister to this department, very much looking forward to supporting a very reform‐minded Secretary of State, but perhaps above all, in my own small way, I'm hoping to make it easier for you to do the very good work that you've done prior to me coming here, so that going forward the department can function perhaps even better. Thank you very much.
Thank you, Phillip. Thank you to the ministerial team. Now we have a chance for questions either to the Secretary of the State and the team, or to me or generally. Questions or thoughts? Right at the front.
RICHARD HEATON Intention to build the nine prisons?
RICHARD HEATON Keep it simple, yes. Okay, this is going well. Gentleman here, number one.
RICHARD HEATON Okay, I…
I’d hate to feel left out. More broadly, I’m covering youth offender work and women’s prisons. And in the submissions that I’ve read so far, there are some arguments to say that custodial sentences aren’t necessarily the most effective way, in the short term, of preventing reoffending. I think I’m going to look a bit more at it, but the sort of relatively short two to three‐month stays in either women’s prisons or youth offender institutes or the like, it doesn’t strike me as enough time to have an effective intervention programme with each individual, and maybe we need to start looking at different ways of preventing reoffending in both groups.
I was actually interested in seeing if you’re still going ahead with the autonomy of the prisons, and perhaps how that works with the data management that you’re talking about as well, because will that cause more issues if you’re devolving responsibility?
I think the quick answer is yes. I think autonomy is actually, I think, structurally essential to delivering the kind of improvements and transformation that we need. We’ve seen it in education. I think making prison governors more autonomous, giving them freedom, is absolutely key and will continue. In terms of how we get there, there are a lot of things that we need to work through, what autonomy means, and what areas over which we give people freedom. And that’s what we’re going to be doing over the next few weeks and months. But it’s absolutely central to the prison reform programme. Thanks.
Okay, one more, maybe? One more? If there’s one at the back. Microphone making the way to the pillar.
QUESTION Hello. I was interested in what you think the prison reform programme and autonomy means in relation to the probation service reforms?
RICHARD HEATON Autonomy in relation to the probation reforms? They’re only a week in, for heaven’s sake.
I’m still waiting for that submission. I think the way I see public service reform and how it works, is, firstly, you devolve power to the people on the frontline. You give them a lot more control over budgets and decision making, then you find ways to hold them accountable, in a very clear and transparent way. And then you have targeted interventions, in the case of prisons, whether it’s around education, whether it’s around mental health. That makes sure that you can solve the problems that go on in there.
That’s kind of the tool kit, as it were, and it’s the tool kit we’ll be looking to apply to prisons where it is appropriate, and the same will apply to the probation service as well. I know a lot of work has already gone on there, but it’s still, as Richard said, the first week. I don’t want to over‐claim or over‐promise, but the probation service will not be forgotten in the reforms that we’re thinking about.
SECRETARY OF STATE Do you want to say…?
DR PHILLIP LEE
Thank you, Phillip. Thank you everyone for coming, thank you very much. Huge thank to you to the ministerial team. What you’ve heard is a ministerial team that is absolutely fired up with reform, but also a big focus on focus and on delivery, and I know that we as a department and the brilliant civil servants that we have will help this team deliver its objectives and will rise to the challenge. So thank you for coming and thank you Liz.