New Prisons and Courts Bill announced
The Prisons and Courts bill, published recently, focuses on reforms to courts and prisons with a view to providing better protection of victims and vulnerable witnesses and rehabilitation of offenders.
For the first time prisons will be defined as places for ‘reform and rehabilitation’ rather than the hitherto approach of ‘prison works’. In an attempt to streamline standards, prisons will be subject to more rigorous inspections and league tables will be introduced to identify failing institutions. Prison governors will have control over their own budgets for health, education and employment with greater emphasis placed on rehabilitation by encouraging offenders to be free of drugs, learn English and maths and obtain employment once released.
In order to achieve these aims a further 2,500 prison officers and 50 intelligence officers will be recruited. Measures are included to cut off illegal mobile phones within the prison and to add ‘legal highs’ to existing compulsory drug-testing powers. It is hoped that greater emphasis on rehabilitation and restitution within the community for ex-offenders will reduce the estimated £15 billion annual cost of re-offending.
Justice Secretary Elizabeth Truss said:-
“Prison is about punishing people who have committed heinous crimes, but it should be a place where offenders are given the opportunity to turn their lives around.
I want our prisons to be places of discipline, hard work and self-improvement, where staff are empowered to get people off drugs, improve their English and maths get a job on release.
Our courts should be places where victims get the justice they deserve, and where our outstanding independent judiciary can flourish and focus on the cases that matter”.
The reforms to the Courts aim to make access to justice more accessible, open and modern for all users. Virtual hearings will be extended to cover bail applications either by means of video or telephone conferencing. To lessen the workload of a court list offenders will be able to plead guilty online to minor offences such as failure to produce a ticket for train travel and will be able to pay fines online.
The provision of better safeguards for victims and vulnerable witnesses is also at the core of the Bill with a number of measures designed to bolster their protection. Witnesses and victims will be able to give evidence remotely via video-link thus avoiding the risk of any face to face contact. Similarly, domestic violence victims will no longer be allowed to be cross-examined in Court by the alleged perpetrator.
The justice minister, Sir Oliver Heald, who is responsible for the changes to the court system has said:
“We want courts that are efficient and fit for purpose, with facilities across the entire estate that are modern, user-friendly, and work in favour of our hard-working and dedicated judges and magistrates’.
The Ministry of Justice has been granted a £1billion investment in which to achieve these aims.
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Articles are intended as an introduction to the topic and do not constitute legal advice.