Test 30 March, 2017

Where next for criminal justice reform?

Reforming our criminal justice system is my top priority.

Since my first day as Justice Secretary and Lord Chancellor, I have been clear that we must create prisons that change lives and a court system that works for all.

The ground-breaking Prisons and Courts Bill is a crucial step towards achieving that vision.

It is a firm commitment from the Government to overhaul the system for the better.

Prisons will be transformed, protection for victims and witnesses will be boosted and the courts will be revolutionised so justice can be delivered more swiftly.

Making prisons work is something in which we all have a stake.

They keep some of the most dangerous criminals locked away from society, depriving them of their liberty and putting an end to the misery they have heaped on so many. And of course, it is right that prisons are there to punish people who break the law.

But I am clear that there is more to do in order to reduce the likelihood of them reoffending after they’ve been released.

The burden on society caused by those who are caught in a cycle of reoffending is staggeringly high. It costs society £15 billion every year. And then there is the emotional turmoil faced by the millions of blameless victims who come home to find their home has been ransacked or car stolen.

I’m absolutely determined to get a grip on this and that is why the changes in the Prisons and Courts Bill are so important.

They will give prisons a clear and direct instruction that they must achieve more than simply act as offender warehouses.

This is a crucial change that will, for the first time ever, set out that reforming offenders is a key aim of prison. We will require prisons to show progress in areas such as getting prisoners off drugs, boosting their English and maths skills, and into meaningful employment.

This matters because we know that prisoners who are drug-free, are able to read and write, and have a job to go to are less likely to go on committing more crime when they’re on the outside.

But when offenders do commit crime, the system must support victims.

I know from conversations with those who have had to appear in a courtroom that the process is a daunting one, so we must do all we can to help make it a smoother and less-traumatic experience.

That is why I have included specific measures within the Prisons and Courts Bill that will extend the use of online courts and virtual hearings, allowing more witnesses to give evidence outside the courtroom to help deliver swifter justice.

As a result of this legislation, many more people will be able to take part in court proceedings without actually being in court.

The legislation will also give courts the power to end the appalling practice of domestic violence victims being cross-examined by their abusers in family proceedings.

The bottom line is I want victims to have real confidence in the system and to feel empowered to come forward and speak out.

And I want prisons that provide offenders with the best possible chance of turning their lives around for good.

It will take time to make these substantial changes and there is a great deal of work to do.

But there should be no doubt that the Prisons and Courts Bill is a critical component in our mission to drive reform.