The work of the Committee in the 2010-2015 Parliament - Justice Contents


2  Our work

The core tasks

9. The 10 core tasks promulgated by the Liaison Committee all contribute to achievement of the overall aim which that Committee considers appropriate for select committees:

    To hold Ministers and Departments to account for their policy and decision-making and to support the House in its control of the supply of public money and scrutiny of legislation.

STRATEGY: CORE TASK 1

10. In a protracted period of austerity in public finances, the delivery of core justice services by the Ministry of Justice and its agencies has undergone a radical degree of change during the course of this Parliament, under the banner of "Transforming Justice". All the services provided by the Ministry have been profoundly affected. Alongside the Transforming Rehabilitation programme, which has outsourced a large part of probation services and introduced supervision of offenders completing sentences of less than twelve months, the MoJ has cut back expenditure on legal aid in criminal and civil cases. The Ministry has closed many courts throughout England and Wales, and is introducing secure colleges for those in youth custody. A single Family Court has been established, and Cafcass[19] has been transferred back to MoJ control from the Department for Education.

11. Many of our inquiries have considered the Ministry's formulation of strategic objectives, their appropriateness, and the extent to which they have been achieved: our most comprehensive consideration of the capacity of the Ministry to achieve its objectives was in our inquiry into the budget and structure of the Ministry. This inquiry was our first major examination of the activities of the Ministry and its associated public bodies across the board, looking in depth at: the background to the establishment of the Ministry; its internal governance and structure; its budgetary provision; its financial management, ICT and commissioning/procurement systems and capacity; its relationship with its associated public bodies, other Government departments, and the judiciary; and the prospects for achievement of the Ministry's radical long-term policies under the banner of "Transforming Justice" at a time of public expenditure retrenchment.

12. The main conclusions in our Report[20] were that -

·  the Ministry's structure and performance had improved since its creation, and progress had been made in integrating the Department, but many of the improvements had been from a low starting point and there had been criticisms and failures;

·  the culture of a focus on policy creation had changed to an increased recognition of the importance of programme management; and the Department had developed a greater understanding of its cost drivers, although it still did not have sufficient management control of its finances;

·  the Ministry had sought to bring its sponsored bodies under closer central control and make them more accountable to Ministers, and had streamlined senior management structures and reduced duplication of functions;

·  it was questionable whether the Ministry had sufficient skills capacity to implement the radical change of approach represented by the greater outsourcing of delivery of services, and there was also a danger that the way payments by results would be commissioned might undermine the work of voluntary sector organisations which play a vital role in the justice sector;

·  a wide range of public, private and voluntary organisations needed to work together if the wider justice system is to operate more effectively and efficiently at a time of constrained resource.

13. In our work on the Ministry's outsourcing of criminal justice services, we have focused our attention not on whether a policy of outsourcing was desirable or acceptable in principle, but on how it was carried out, and an assessment of the quality and capacity of the Ministry's management of procurement competitions and of its management of contracts with suppliers. There has been no shortage of problems during this Parliament, with notable examples being the underperformance of contracted-out court interpreting services,[21] and the discovery of major irregularities in billing by contractors G4S and Serco for electronic monitoring of prisoners under contracts dating from the previous Government.

14. We have taken oral evidence on several occasions from the Permanent Secretary, using the Ministry's Annual Report and Accounts as a springboard for discussion of the effectiveness of the Ministry's structure and processes in implementing the political priorities of Ministers. These sessions have been very useful in enabling us to pursue important subjects which have arisen outside our specific inquiry work, and in ensuring that the Ministry is aware that its top official may find herself called upon to explain and justify any significant administrative decision which may be taken in the course of a year.

POLICY: CORE TASK 2

15. Building on the work on justice reinvestment carried out by the Justice Committee in the previous Parliament, the central and defining strand of our work on policy has involved a continuing dialogue with the Ministry and the National Offender Management Service on the Government's prisons and probation policy. Our major inquiries into the Probation Service, women offenders, older prisoners, crime reduction policies (which included an examination of the Government's Transforming Rehabilitation programme as it unfolded), and into prisons planning and policy, were our main contributions to this dialogue. We have consistently advocated initiatives which go beyond a reliance on custody as the default answer and instead aim more squarely at reducing offending and re-offending levels, and so enhancing public safety, by such expedients as-

·  putting in place appropriate community-based services to prevent potential offenders from entering the criminal justice system and to divert them from offending behaviour;

·  creating a well-resourced, credible, nationally-available but locally-responsive system of community sentences;

·  establishing a financially sustainable and effective sentencing framework that can deploy community sentences on an evidential basis.

We have sought greater recognition of the fact that custodial sentences represent a very large commitment of public resources which cannot then be used to prevent crime and reduce reoffending.

16. The landscape of probation services has changed fundamentally over the course of this Parliament, but in our view many of the principles which we set out in our 2011 Report on the role of the Probation Service remain valid criteria against which to assess reforms which have subsequently been proposed and introduced by the Government. We argued then that there needed to be a better and more seamless approach to offender management, with local commissioning and closer integration of prison and probation services to meet the needs of individual offenders. On the controversial question of payment by results, which has become the cornerstone of the future delivery of probation services under the Transforming Rehabilitation programme, we considered that it could provide a mechanism for putting the system on a sustainable footing over the longer term by shifting resources away from incarceration to rehabilitation, provided the concept was tested before being rolled out nationally. We have drawn attention to the dangers of perverse incentives and "gaming" of the payment system.

17. When we returned to these issues in our inquiry into crime reduction policies we highlighted the importance of local partnerships for crime reduction and noted the changes which had taken place in the composition of those partnerships since 2012, including the introduction of police and crime commissioners and the transfer of public health responsibilities to local authorities. But we said that two major elements were missing from local partnership approaches to crime reduction: courts and prisons. We continued to argue that a prison system which effectively rehabilitated a smaller number of offenders, while other offenders were rehabilitated through robust community sentences, had the potential to bring about a bigger reduction in crime. Additionally, we contested the traditional view that courts are purely instrumental institutions involved in processing and resolving cases, believing that an opportunity was being missed for encouraging greater innovation, with the potential to make broader systemic savings. We also argued that the Government was still viewing crime reduction too much through the prism of Home Office and Ministry of Justice areas of responsibility, and not taking a broad enough perspective, especially in terms of adopting early intervention and preventative policies in the areas of mental health, drug and alcohol treatment, which could do much to prevent people entering the criminal justice system in the first place, as well as to support those already in it.

18. As part of our inquiry into crime reduction policies we kept a close eye on the Transforming Rehabilitation programme as it evolved. In an interim report - on which our only division of the Parliament took place — we very much supported the aims of providing rehabilitative services to short-sentenced prisoners and of joining up the provision of those services before and after a prisoner's release, aims which are entirely in line with those we have espoused for some time. At the same time we saw a real danger that the development of effectively integrated local services could be inhibited by the extent to which centralised management remained a feature of this part of the criminal justice system, particularly as most new providers will be operating across large Community Rehabilitation Company regions. One of the main drawbacks of the model adopted by the Ministry is that, where success is achieved in reducing reoffending, the savings accrued will all be disbursed to providers over a period of 10 years, rather than some or all being reinvested into early intervention, or criminal justice initiatives further upstream, as would be the case in a system inspired by justice reinvestment principles. We have consistently maintained the view that providers need to be incentivised to reinvest part of any cost savings that might be achieved into further reoffending reduction initiatives, and to consolidate local partnership commitments to reducing crime more broadly.

19. We have also consistently argued that the climate of austerity which has prevailed during this Parliament has made the case for adoption of a justice reinvestment approach more compelling. When we visited Texas in July 2013 as part of our crime reduction policies inquiry, we investigated the intriguing political consensus which has been forged there, with Republicans and Democrats agreeing that the taxpayers' dollar was being wasted on imprisoning offenders with drug problems who could be better dealt with by community-based programmes. In a surprising development for Texas's longstanding reputation as one of the more draconian US states, that bipartisan consensus recognizes that default incarceration of offenders is both expensive and ineffective in reducing offending rates compared with other policy approaches.

20. We do not claim that the Government has wholly signed up to the justice reinvestment inspired approach to penal policy which we have advocated. Early in the Parliament there were some encouraging initiatives, such as social impact bonds, which followed similar principles. Youth justice policy was heavily influenced by a justice reinvestment approach, and partly as a result there has been a substantial drop in the number of young people being held in custody. In our crime reduction policies report we commended the cross-Government work which has been undertaken through early intervention to reduce crime by young people, especially through the Ending Gang and Youth Violence and Troubled Families programmes and Family Nurse Partnerships. Specific justice reinvestment pilots have also taken place, with largely positive results. In some areas criminal justice partners have enthusiastically embraced a justice reinvestment philosophy: we found this to be the case in Greater Manchester when we made a visit there in February 2014 as part of our inquiry into crime reduction policies. The payment by results paradigm being used in the Transforming Rehabilitation programme also has elements in common with a justice reinvestment approach, but with the crucial difference that in the latter case some or all savings accruing to the criminal justice system as a result of reduced reoffending would be invested in intervention and other support programmes to enhance the virtuous circle.[22]

21. Our work has dealt with a range of other legal and policy matters which have had considerable influence on public debate and in numerous cases have directly led to changes in approach by the Government and others. In some cases those changes have taken place because the Committee shone a spotlight on a subject by inquiring into it, and in some cases through responses to specific recommendations made by us. Examples falling under the heading of other core tasks are referred to in the appropriate place. In addition to those examples, we would draw attention in particular to -

·  the wholesale recasting by the Ministry of Justice of its stewardship of the UK Government's relationship with the Crown Dependencies, ensuring greater respect and understanding of the Dependencies' constitutional position, which took place in response to recommendations which were made in our predecessors' first report on the subject, in 2010

·  the recommendations of our work on the presumption of death were largely implemented through the Presumption of Death Act 2013, which originated as a private Member's bill supported by the Government

·  the attention to the controversial common law doctrine of joint enterprise generated by the inquiry which we held into the subject, which resulted in publication of guidance to prosecutors by the Crown Prosecution Service and the compilation of more reliable information on the use of the doctrine by the CPS and others, even if the Government has not accepted the case for a review of the doctrine as we have recommended

·  the decision by the Government not to proceed with its intention to abolish the Youth Justice Board following an inquiry and report by the Committee on the subject, extensively referred to in the House of Lords debates which led to the dropping of the proposal (although our report did not express a firm view for or against abolition, it did make clear that a substantial set of safeguarding arrangements would need to be put in place if abolition took place)

·  greater priority was afforded by the Government to policy to deal with women offenders, including through the establishment of an Advisory Board, while we were holding an inquiry into the subject

·  on mesothelioma claims, we arrived independently at the same principal conclusion as a judicial review into the Government's decision to apply sections 44 and 46 of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO) to such claims, namely that the review carried out before taking the decision had not been satisfactory and a further review needed to be undertaken.

It will be seen that we have sought to influence the Government both positively, in seeking to persuade Ministers to take action they might not otherwise have taken, and negatively, in seeking to dissuade them from proceeding from planned action.

EXPENDITURE AND PERFORMANCE: CORE TASK 3

22. In most of our work questions about the effectiveness and value for money of expenditure by the Ministry and its associated public bodies have been inextricably linked to judgments about the justification for the legislation, policy and programmes which they are pursuing, and of the quality of their delivery of services. We have been conscious of the severe pressure on public finances over the course of the Parliament and the budgetary constraints within which the Ministry has been operating. The context of austerity and budget cuts has not prevented us from asking searching questions about the scale and advisability of the cuts which have been proposed and introduced by Ministers, about the adequacy of the evidence base which has been used as a basis for spending decisions, and about the impacts, both intended and unforeseen, of cuts which have been made. Our recently-published reports into the impact of changes to eligibility for civil legal aid under LASPO and into prisons: planning and policies each contain extended critiques of the effects of spending reductions.

23. The Ministry is not one of the biggest-spending Government Departments. Its Main Estimate resource departmental expenditure limit (DEL) for 2014-15 amounted to £7.376 billion. But that expenditure, if not huge in total, is in crucially important areas of great public concern and interest: including prisons; probation; and legal aid. Most of the expenditure for which the Ministry is accountable is incurred on programmes administered by its Executive Agencies and non-departmental public bodies (NDPBs). Chief among these is the National Offender Management Service executive agency: NOMS' programme expenditure budget for 2014-15 for provision of prison and probation services amounted to a net £3.183 billion. The other main areas of net budgeted programme expenditure for 2014-15, and the bodies overseeing them, break down as follows -

·  Legal aid funding through the Legal Services Commission: £ 1.685 billion[23]

·  Administration of the courts through Her Majesty's Courts and Tribunals Service: a net £838 million[24]

·  Operation of the youth justice system through the Youth Justice Board: £ 247 million

·  Administration of the Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme through the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority (CICA): £ 116 million

·  Provision of services by the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass): £115 million.[25]

24. Our major report into the budget and structure of the Ministry examined the appropriateness of the IT and management systems through which budgetary and expenditure plans are formulated. In that report we were critical of the financial management capacity of the Ministry and some of its associated bodies, including on such matters as the late production of resource accounts, the recurrent qualification of the Legal Services Commission's accounts, and the disclaimer of opinion issued by the Comptroller and Auditor General on HM Courts and Tribunals Service's Trust Statement. Our report, and the Government's response to it, were debated on an Estimates Day in March 2013.[26] This was one of the relatively rare occasions when an Estimates Day debate focused primarily on financial matters raised in a select committee report.

25. When the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) produced a Supplementary Estimate in financial year 2013-14 amounting to an addition of 52% to the funding provided to the Office in its Main Estimate for the year, we obtained an urgent explanation from the Director of the SFO, David Green CB. Mr Green's response set out the agreement which had been reached between the SFO and the Treasury to enable the former, in recognition of the fact that new major "blockbuster" investigations may arise with little notice, to make claims for advances against the Contingencies Fund which are later subsumed into the Estimates process. Our report on this subject was tagged to an Estimates motion, although it was not the subject of a debate on that day.[27] This demand-led and unbudgeted form of financing is extremely unusual and will require continuing scrutiny, particularly in an office which has previously had serious management issues.

26. As mentioned above we have regularly taken oral evidence from the Permanent Secretary, and other senior officials, on the Ministry's Annual Report and Accounts and related matters, covering expenditure issues as appropriate. We have also corresponded with the Ministry on occasion on its Main and Supplementary Estimates and associated memoranda, and on the Mid Year Reports which it produced in financial years 2013-14 and 2014-15.

27. In our regular one-off evidence sessions scrutinising the work of bodies associated with the Ministry and with the Attorney General's Office budgetary provision and financial management have regularly featured as topics for questioning and discussion.

28. We are grateful to both the Scrutiny Unit and the National Audit Office for the valuable and expert support they have provided in our scrutiny of budgetary and expenditure issues.

DRAFT BILLS: CORE TASK 4

29. In autumn 2012 the Government published for consultation a number of draft clauses intended for inclusion in a subsequent Children and Families Bill. At the Government's request, several committees[28] undertook pre-legislative scrutiny (PLS) of those draft clauses falling within their remits. We agreed to carry out PLS on the family justice draft clauses, which covered topics including Mediation Information and Assessment Meetings (MIAMs), child arrangements orders, the introduction of a 26 week time limit for care proceedings, and shared parenting. Most of these draft clauses were published by the Government in September, but the shared parenting draft clause, in which there was considerable public interest, did not appear until November.

30. We had to squeeze this pre-legislative scrutiny into a very short timeframe, and were aided in this by the fact that we had previously dealt with some of the issues involved in a wide-ranging inquiry into the operation of the family courts. As we made clear in our Report, there were particular difficulties for us, and for those wishing to submit their views to us, stemming from the late publication of the draft shared parenting clause, and from the lack of an impact assessment to accompany it. In the end we missed the Government's preferred deadline by a short time. Nevertheless we consider the scrutiny to have been worthwhile, and some of our proposed revisions to the wording of draft clauses, which we set out in a type of Keeling Schedule in our Report, were incorporated into the text of the Bill as it was subsequently introduced. Staff from our Committee assisted with preparation of briefing for the evidence-taking stage of the Public Bill Committee.

31. This was the only formal pre-legislative scrutiny which we undertook during the Parliament. In the case of another potential PLS candidate, the draft Voting Eligibility (Prisoners) Bill, the Government preferred to establish an ad hoc Joint Committee.[29] On some occasions we have considered pre-legislative proposals when at an earlier consultation stage, most notably in our inquiry into the Government's proposed reform of legal aid, on which we reported in March 2011.[30]

BILLS AND DELEGATED LEGISLATION: CORE TASK 5

32. When, under the powers accorded them by the Public Bodies Act 2011, Ministers lay before Parliament draft orders to abolish, merge, or modify the functions, constitutional arrangements or funding arrangements of specified public bodies, the relevant select committee may, under section 11 of that Act, invoke an enhanced parliamentary scrutiny procedure, extending to 60 days the length of time before which a motion may be put to the House for approval of the draft order. We have considered the draft orders coming within our remit which have been laid by Ministers under the 2011 Act. Most have been uncontroversial.[31] In one case, however, the draft order to abolish the Administrative Justice and Tribunals Council (AJTC), we invoked the enhanced scrutiny procedure in order to take evidence and report on the subject. We were the first select committee to trigger this procedure.

33. In our final Report, which was made available to the delegated legislation committee which considered the draft Order and was tagged to the approval motion when that was taken without debate on the floor of the House, we rehearsed the concerns expressed to us about the abolition of the AJTC. Parliament proceeded with the abolition of the Council, but the pressure from our inquiry and Report, along with other factors, caused the Government to strengthen the arrangements which were made to replace it. In particular the independence of the new Administrative Justice Forum and its Chair as a source of advice and opinion of the working of the administrative justice system was enhanced.

POST-LEGISLATIVE SCRUTINY: CORE TASK 6

34. In respect of formal post-legislative scrutiny work, we have looked at all the post-legislative assessments (PLAs) provided to us by the Government in order to decide in each case whether to carry out a more substantial inquiry. In one case we did embark on a major inquiry, conducting post-legislative scrutiny of a piece of landmark legislation, the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOIA), which came into force in January 2005. In December 2011 the Government provided the Committee with its post-legislative assessment of the Act.[32] The MoJ used four categories to judge the success of FOIA against its original objectives. These categories were openness and transparency; accountability; trust and participation in decision-making; quality of decision making. We reported our recommendations and conclusions in July 2012,[33] and following receipt of the Government's response[34] we secured a debate in Westminster Hall on the subject in January 2013.[35]

35. Overall we broadly agreed with the Government's analysis of the impact of the Act. We were concerned, however, by suggestions floated by the Government that changes might be introduced to the freedom of information system in response to claims that in some cases the "industrial use" of the legislation meant that the work generated by requests was proving unduly burdensome and expensive for public authorities. We were prepared to countenance some minor modifications to the regime, such as a marginal decrease in the acceptable time limit for work done to provide information above which public authorities may charge requesters the full estimated cost incurred by them. But we were not persuaded that any more substantial change was needed, such as by the placing of limits on the number of requests which could be made over a particular period by individual requesters. In the event, the Government did not follow up with any proposals to amend the Act. In this instance, the influence which we had on the Government was effective in dissuading it from taking action which we considered inadvisable.

36. We were also concerned at the credence which was being attached to the current of opinion, represented by among others the former Prime Minister Tony Blair[36] and the former Cabinet Secretary Lord O'Donnell,[37] that the Act was a threat to the safe space which must exist for officials to be able to advise Ministers in confidence to enable government to operate effectively. Properly applied, we considered that the provisions of the Act afforded sufficient and appropriate protection to that safe space, and that claims to the contrary were not well-founded.

37. A very different and rather more esoteric example of our post-legislative scrutiny work was into the provisions concerning offences of encouraging or assisting offences contained in Part 2 of the Serious Crime Act 2007. In this instance investigation of the assertion contained in the Ministry's PLA memorandum that the provisions were working well revealed a situation in which much informed comment was profoundly critical of the complexity and intelligibility of the law. We had no alternative but to conclude that the Ministry's own assessment of the operation of the law was "poor and misleading".[38] In his response to our Report, the Lord Chancellor told us, in a further memorandum responding to critical points raised by witnesses to our inquiry, that:

    While of great interest to us, authoritative interpretation of the law is a matter for the courts once legislation has been enacted by Parliament, rather than for Government.[39]

We cleave to the view that Parliament and Government have a direct interest and responsibility in monitoring the effective operation of legislative provisions once enacted. This is the purpose of post-legislative scrutiny as we understand it, and is a matter separate from the quite proper functioning of the courts in interpreting and applying legislation.

EUROPEAN SCRUTINY: CORE TASK 7

38. In the final Session of the last Parliament, our predecessor Committee undertook an inquiry into justice issues in Europe which covered various topics, including the EU's programmes and priorities for justice and home affairs and the UK's position in relation to them, the European arrest warrant, fundamental rights, and information management and data protection.[40] In this Parliament we followed this up with two substantial pieces of work on European matters. The first of these was into the EU's proposed data protection framework legislation package, following receipt of a request from the European Scrutiny Committee for our opinion on the draft legislation. The second strand was work on the UK's exercise of its block opt-out from pre-Lisbon policing and criminal justice measures, which we carried out in close co-operation with the European Scrutiny Committee and the Home Affairs Committee. We consider this strand of work below in relation to the core task of "support for the House".

39. For committees of national Parliaments to make influential and worthwhile contributions to debates on the formulation of European policy and legislation, it is important that they have the right information available to them at the right time, enabling them to intervene at an early enough stage in the process. In the case of the data protection framework package we benefited from being able to do this, and in taking evidence and then reaching conclusions on the likely implications of the legislation for the UK we also benefited from scrutiny which we had undertaken on the work of the Information Commissioner's Office, responsible for the oversight of data protection legislation in England and Wales.

40. Our Report[41] covered the two components of the framework package, a draft Regulation on general data protection and a draft Directive on protection of data obtained, held and processed for law enforcement purposes. In that Report, copies of which we sent to those most closely involved in negotiation of the package in the EU institutions, we agreed that the draft Regulation was necessary, but we expressed concern that the twin-track approach being taken would cause confusion for data subjects and in particular for authorities within the criminal justice system. In these and other conclusions the UK Government was of a similar mind. It is still too soon to say how much weight our views have carried, as, more than two years after publication of our report, the legislative package remains under negotiation at EU level.

41. The Committee Chair and on one occasion another member of the Committee attended conferences or inter-parliamentary committee meetings on justice and home affairs matters organised by the European Commission, holders of the Presidency and by European Parliament committees. Details are given in Annex 5. We were also one of the first committees to appoint a member to act as an EU reporter, acting as a point of contact liaising with the European Scrutiny Committee on EU justice and home affairs legislative proposals and other documents.

APPOINTMENTS: CORE TASK 8

42. There are seven ministerial appointments which fall to us to conduct pre-appointment scrutiny: six of them are made by the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, and one is made by the Attorney General. The full list is given at Annex 8. Every time a recruitment to one of these posts has taken place we have held a hearing with the preferred candidate and produced a Report containing our view of the candidate's suitability for appointment.

43. The most notable issues have arisen in relation to recruitment to the post of HM Chief Inspector of Probation. In one case we expressed reservations, including about whether the preferred candidate had been drawn from a wide enough field, and the Secretary of State did not proceed with the appointment.[42] Following a lengthy period with an Acting Chief Inspector, the Ministry ran a new recruitment campaign, and we held a pre-appointment hearing with the preferred candidate, Paul McDowell, in October 2013, subsequently reporting our complete confidence in his ability to fill the post. However, after he had been appointed, Mr McDowell's position became more problematical. Sodexo, a company in which his wife held a senior post, was announced as a preferred bidder, in partnership with the charity Nacro, to be provider of probation services for six of the regional Community Rehabilitation Companies. His wife has also subsequently been promoted to a more senior position in Sodexo, although she is not expected to take up the post until autumn 2015. In light of these developments the Ministry posed various questions to Mr McDowell about whether satisfactory arrangements could be made to handle the conflict of interest. We also corresponded with the Ministry on the situation which had arisen.

44. The propriety of Mr McDowell's behaviour was not in question at any point: in his application for the post in 2013 he had drawn attention to his wife's job in a declaration of interest. That declaration was not conveyed to us by the Ministry: the Cabinet Office guidance in force at the time did not specify that it should be, although there was no reason for the Ministry not to have provided us with the relevant information. Ultimately Mr McDowell tendered his resignation. The pre-appointment scrutiny of his successor is likely to be the first such exercise which our successor Committee will have to undertake.

45. On one occasion we raised with the Secretary of State the question of whether there should be additions to the list of posts in relation to which we undertake pre-appointment scrutiny, but we did not reach any agreement with him. We would suggest to our successor Committee that they should seek to reach agreement on the list, with or without any additions or subtractions, with the Secretary of State at an early stage in the next Parliament.

SUPPORT FOR THE HOUSE: CORE TASK 9

46. Select committees make their reports formally to the House, and it is vital that every opportunity is taken to use the evidence and findings of committees to inform debate and decision in the House as a whole. We have a strong record of holding debates on our reports, both in the main Chamber and in Westminster Hall, and of drawing Members' attention to our reports when they are relevant to parliamentary business by "tagging" them to the Order Paper. A full list of debates and tags is included in Annex 3. Our Chair has also made use of the recently-introduced procedure of making statements on publication of Committee reports to launch one in the Chamber[43] and one in Westminster Hall.[44]

47. Our most sustained engagement on behalf of the House in carrying out work in time to inform its debates and decisions came in our scrutiny of the Government's proposal to exercise the UK's opt-out from 130 or so pre-Lisbon Treaty policing and criminal justice measures, and subsequently to seek agreement at EU level to opt back into 35 of them. We conducted this work in close co-operation with the other two Commons Committees involved, the European Scrutiny Committee and the Home Affairs Committee.

48. An account giving the full chronology of this process would be unduly lengthy: information can be found in the Reports of the three committees concerned, in particular those of the European Scrutiny Committee.[45] All three committees experienced considerable frustrations and difficulty in requiring that the Government hold to its pledge to engage constructively with Parliament and to facilitate effective scrutiny. Some aspects of our co-operative scrutiny process are however worth highlighting as being of particular significance for the working practices of select committees in support of the House.

49. When the Government brought forward a motion for debate on the opt-out on 15 July 2013, an amendment tabled by our Chair and supported by Chairs of other committees included a request for each of the three concerned committees to report to the House on the matter by the end of October 2013, before the opening of formal discussions between the Government and other EU institutions. That amendment was accepted by the Government and agreed to by the House. We duly sought evidence and reported our views on the sixteen Ministry of Justice measures in the block opt-out, in accordance with that deadline.[46] Like the other Committees, we recommended that an early debate on the subject should be held to enable the House to express its views on the issue, on an amendable motion which would allow the addition or subtraction of measures from the list for rejoining. When the Government responded to the Committees' Reports, it rejected the proposal for such a debate. We then agreed a joint response with the other committees, following which the Government agreed to hold a general debate, if not a debate on the amendable motion which we had advocated.[47] Subsequently the concluding debate on this process, purportedly on the European Arrest Warrant (EAW), was held in the Chamber, but this debate dissolved in acrimony and recriminations when it became clear the motion put forward by the Government did not refer to the EAW.[48] The inglorious conclusion to this process could have been averted had the Government engaged properly with the three committees concerned and heeded our carefully considered recommendations.

50. Whenever a public petition has been presented to the House on a matter falling within the responsibility of the Ministry of Justice we have placed it on the agenda of a meeting for consideration of whether we should take any action. We have done the same when Government observations are made on a petition. It is in the nature of petitions that they often relate to individual grievances, and we are unable to intervene to obtain redress for individuals on matters which are more properly for the legal process or for consideration by those bodies established by statute to investigate particular kinds of complaints. On some occasions we have written to the Member who presented a petition to explain related work which we have undertaken, or plan to undertake.

PUBLIC ENGAGEMENT: CORE TASK 10

51. We have taken very seriously the importance of engaging widely with the public in our work, although we recognize the reality that a proportion of our work is primarily of concern to the various groups who are affected most closely by it, whether that be legal practitioners in general or particular sections of the legal profession, offenders and ex-offenders, prisons and probation staff. We held an e-consultation in our inquiry into court interpreting services, and we have changed meeting times to accommodate witnesses travelling some distance to give evidence, as well as holding numerous informal meetings on visits. Recently, in November 2014, we went to Greenwich during Parliament Week to discuss with young offenders their experiences of youth justice, and we held formal evidence sessions in private with ex-offenders in our inquiries into women offenders and into prisons.[49] In our inquiry into youth justice we took evidence from young people and from the mother of somebody who died in youth custody.[50] In a number of inquiries we have received handwritten submissions from prisoners and Committee staff have typed these up to process them as evidence. Like other committees, we now use Twitter.[51]

52. When we receive requests from members of the public to inquire into matters, provided they come within our terms of reference we regularly consider them, and those requests can be influential on or determinative of our decisions to hold particular inquiries: our recent inquiry into manorial rights, for example, came about as a direct result of representations from individuals who had received notices of claim of such rights associated with their properties.

53. Our work inevitably involves consideration of complex matters. In terms of accessibility, we have striven to make our reports as succinct and comprehensible as possible, while reflecting the volume and breadth of evidence received. We have sought to observe a general principle that the language used in our reports should not be overly-legalistic, and that terms and concepts that may be unfamiliar to the general reader should be explained.

54. In the 2013-14 Parliamentary Session we had the most even gender balance of witnesses of any departmental select committee, with females making up 45% of our witnesses. In the 2014-15 Session, as at 4 March 2015, this figure had fallen to 30%. In our follow-up oral evidence session on women offenders we actively suggested that the Minister bring with him female representatives from the Advisory Board on Female Offenders to get their thoughts on the issues, and he did.

Other matters

SENTENCING GUIDELINES

55. Under section 120 of the Coroners and Justice Act 2009, the Justice Committee must be consulted on draft sentencing guidelines by the Sentencing Council. We have offered views on all draft guidelines issued by the Council over the course of the Parliament. Initially we approached this task by the standard method of taking formal oral and written evidence, but it became clear to us that this had the major disadvantage of duplicating the Sentencing Council's own process of consultation. In the second half of the Parliament, with the Council's agreement, we have instead held an informal seminar after the conclusion of the relevant consultation period with some stakeholders, focused on a number of points, in relation to which we have subsequently written to the Chairman of the Council. Our letters and Reports have picked up matters relevant to the structure and content of particular draft Guidelines, but we have also, through our work, pursued various general themes, such as a concern to ensure that the methodology of construction of guidelines for the sentencing process should not contribute to sentence inflation.

56. In November 2014, we co-hosted an event with the Sentencing Council in Portcullis House. The aim of this session was to educate MPs about the work of the Sentencing Council, including through a hands-on sentencing exercise for Members to try out. We share with the Council a wish to make the Guideline process and the work of the Council better known across the House.

CROWN DEPENDENCIES

57. Our substantial work on the Crown Dependencies can also be classified as sui generis, and deserving of separate consideration. Our predecessor Committee's inquiry into the subject, on which they reported in March 2010, unearthed a range of matters concerning the Ministry's handling of the UK's relationship with the Crown Dependencies in relation to which it felt there was a need for more sensitivity and wider appreciation of the Dependencies' distinct constitutional position, for wider understanding across Whitehall of the need to consult with the Dependencies on policy changes which had an impact on them, and for a reduction in duplication and unnecessary work falling on the small team dealing with the Dependencies in the Ministry of Justice. Following that, our Chair made it clear to Ministers at the beginning of the Parliament that a move of responsibility for the Dependencies from the Ministry of Justice to another Department would be unwelcome and unhelpful, and it did not proceed.

58. The recommendations which our predecessors made in their report, on issues such as consultation of the Dependencies on proposed UK legislation relevant to their interests, scrutiny of insular legislation, extension of treaties to the Dependencies, and the Islands' international personality and relations, received a highly positive response from the Government. When we returned to follow up those recommendations we found a high degree of satisfaction amongst all parties that the relationship between the UK and the Dependencies had been recalibrated in a wholly positive way as a result.

LIAISON COMMITTEE BEST PRACTICE RECOMMENDATIONS

59. In November 2012 the Liaison Committee published its Report on select committee effectiveness, resources and powers. That Report contained a number of best practice recommendations aimed at select committees. At a meeting in March 2013 we considered those recommendations and took a number of decisions about our working practices in the remainder of the Parliament.

60. We decided that, rather than identifying and publishing an overarching set of strategic objectives, we would continue to discuss our forward work programme on a regular basis, carrying out a mix of reactive and pro-active inquiries. We also decided to introduce a more formal means of following up our Reports and recommendations. In addition to the follow-up work into Crown Dependencies and joint enterprise which we had already decided to undertake, we agreed that we would follow up relevant reports published from the start of Session 2013-14 approximately one year after their publication, seeking evidence primarily from Ministers on steps which had been taken to implement recommendations which had been accepted by the Government. We have undertaken these follow-up exercises in relation to women offenders and older prisoners.

61. When deciding on inquiries to undertake, we have routinely considered what we hope to achieve from them, and their likely impact, when discussing scoping notes as part of the inquiry planning process. We have not however adopted the practice recommended by the Liaison Committee of agreeing a formal minute before the start of inquiries setting out what we hope to achieve, in part because to do so could give the appearance of prejudging the evidence which we receive and the conclusions which we draw from it.

62. In relation to evidence sessions, we have referred above to our record in taking account of the principles of diversity and inclusion, and of the need to cast the net wider than the "usual suspects", when seeking written and oral evidence. In relation to the conduct of evidence sessions, we make it a priority to ensure that all witnesses are treated with respect and courtesy and given a fair hearing. It has been the practice of the Chair not to call Members to ask questions to a panel of witnesses if they have not been present for the whole of the time with that panel and he has also expected Members to stay until the end of that time if they wish to ask questions to that panel, unless there is a very good reason for them to absent themselves. We have not undertaken training in questioning effectiveness and techniques. In line with guidance on fairness to witnesses, we recently brought the attention of several individuals, including a Member of the House, to criticisms of them by a witness, allowing them a formal right to reply.

63. We have followed the Liaison Committee suggestion that within our reports conclusions and recommendations should be differentiated by setting out the former in bold and the latter in bold italics, and that it should be made clear to whom each recommendation is addressed. In some reports we have expressly indicated which recommendations are the most important. We have also followed the advice of the Liaison Committee in drawing attention where necessary to inadequacies in Government responses, for example when publishing the Government's response to our report on the Administrative Justice and Tribunals Council.

RELATIONS WITH THE MINISTRY OF JUSTICE

64. For all departmentally-related committees, it is essential that the Government Department which they monitor co-operates constructively and provides information willingly and readily, not only at the specific request of the committee but also proactively in relation to developments which take place on subjects in which it is known that the committee takes an interest. In the early part of this Parliament there were several occasions on which we felt that the Ministry was not assiduous enough in giving us advance notice of ministerial statements or of key publications: performance improved after we had raised the matter repeatedly. Ministers and officials have always been willing to appear to give oral evidence, if not always at the time which would have been most suitable for our requirements, and they have done so frequently. We have rather more concerns about occasions when we have had difficulty securing the provision of written information, for example in relation to the competition for provision of probation services under Transforming Rehabilitation, when the Ministry was reluctant to provide even anonymised statistical information on numbers of bidders in each Community Rehabilitation Company area. We have had extreme difficulty in obtaining estimates or figures from the Ministry showing knock-on costs associated with implementation of particular projects or programmes, which suggests that such estimates have not been made for significant policy changes.

65. At other times the Ministry has been regrettably discourteous in furnishing us with information relevant to oral evidence sessions very shortly before those sessions, leaving us with insufficient time to read and digest the information. This happened just before evidence sessions on Transforming Rehabilitation and on women offenders. Our scrutiny of the UK's block justice and home affairs opt-out, discussed in paragraphs 46 to 50 above, was hampered by inordinate delay in producing impact assessments for the individual measures covered by the opt out. Most seriously of all, HM Courts and Tribunals Service warned court staff against taking part in the public e-forum which we ran seeking anonymised personal experiences of the operation of the interpreting contract. In our Report, we went as far as to say that these actions may have constituted a contempt.

66. On some other occasions the co-operation which we have received from the Ministry and its agencies has been outstanding. We would cite in particular the work which NOMS and staff at HMP Belmarsh and Isis did to enable us to hold a formal evidence session at Belmarsh.

67. In general Government responses to our Reports have been timely and their quality has been good, and even when they have not accepted particular conclusions and recommendations, they have shown evidence of detailed consideration and analysis of them, and of the evidence on which they have been based. In some instances, however, we have found responses to be alarmingly lightweight and unwilling to engage with the issues concerned: in this context we would mention in particular the responses to our reports on post-legislative scrutiny of Part 2 of the Serious Crime Act 2007, and our follow-up joint enterprise report.

68. We have had no difficulties in our less extensive relations with the Attorney General's Office and the bodies which come under his purview, including the Crown Prosecution Service and the Serious Fraud Office.

RELATIONS WITH THE JUDICIARY

69. Our relationship with the judiciary is not formally set out in Standing Orders, but we consider ourselves to be their natural interlocutor on behalf of the House of Commons. Given our responsibility for oversight of the judicial and courts system, we request written and oral evidence more frequently from members of the judiciary than any other select committee. We have also developed a practice of taking oral evidence from the Lord Chief Justice on a regular basis, recently in connection with the report he has laid before Parliament on an annual basis under section 5 of the Constitutional Reform Act 2005. It would be improper for us to infringe the independence of the judiciary by calling into question individual court judgments, and we are also obviously bound by the House's sub judice resolution, which largely precludes public reference in parliamentary proceedings to matters before the courts in the UK. The judiciary is however accountable, as the Lord Chief Justice has acknowledged,[52] for the effectiveness in general terms of its discharge of the responsibilities it has for the administration of justice and for the operation of the court system, which it directs, jointly with the Ministry, through HMCTS. We would also regard ourselves as an appropriate conduit for the judiciary to use should they consider there to be any issues concerning their constitutional role and independence which they would wish to draw to the attention of Parliament and the public.


19   The Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service. Back

20   HC [2012-13] 97-I, Paras 281 to 286 Back

21   HC [2012-13] 645 Back

22   For fuller details of these developments, see Chapter 5 of our First Report of Session 2014-15, Crime reduction policies: a co-ordinated approach?, HC 307. Back

23   £889,000 on criminal legal aid; £741,000 on civil legal aid; £55,700 on central funds. Back

24   Gross expenditure of £1.566 billion minus receipts from fees, fines and other income. Back

25   Government Main Supply Estimates 2014-15, HC 1233 Back

26   HC Deb 5 March 2013 col 868 Back

27   Thirteenth Report from the Justice Committee of Session 2013-14, Serious Fraud Office Supplementary Estimate 2013-14, HC 1005; HC Deb 4 March 2014 col 857 Back

28   The Education Committee, the Joint Committee on Human Rights and the House of Lords Adoption Committee in addition to ourselves. Back

29   A member of our Committee served on the Joint Committee. Back

30   HC [2010-12] 681-I Back

31   Cf. The draft order to abolish HM Inspectorate of Courts Administration; and the draft order to merge the Director of Public Prosecutions and HM Revenue and Customs Prosecution Office. Back

32   Memorandum to the Justice Select Committee, Post-Legislative Assessment of the Freedom of Information Act 2000, Cm 8236. Back

33   HC [2012-13] 96-I Back

34   Government Response to the Justice Committee's Report: Post-legislative scrutiny of the Freedom of Information Act 2000, Cm 8505, November 2012. Back

35   HC Deb 24 January 2013: Col 149WH Back

36   Letter from Rt Hon Tony Blair to Rt Hon Sir Alan Beith MP, Chair, Justice Committee, July 2012, Post-legislative scrutiny of the Freedom of information Act 2000 Back

37   HC [2012-13] 96-II Ev 45 Back

38   Sixth Report from the Justice Committee of Session 2013-14, Post-legislative Scrutiny of Part 2 (Encouraging or assisting crime) of the Serious Crime Act 2007, HC 639, paragraph 29 Back

39   HC [Session 2013-14] 639 Back

40   Seventh Report from the Justice Committee of Session 2009-10, Justice issues in Europe, HC 162 Back

41   Third Report from the justice Committee of Session 2012-13, The Committee's opinion on the European Union Data Protection framework proposals HC 572. Back

42   Fifth report from the Justice Committee of Session 2010-12, Appointment of HM Chief Inspector of Probation,
HC 1021. 
Back

43   HC Deb14 March 2013 col 508, Seventh Report, Session 2012-13, Youth Justice, HC 339. Back

44   HC Deb 16 January 2014 col 347WH, HC [Session 2013-14] 726

 Back

45   European Scrutiny Committee, Twenty-first Report, The UK's block opt-out of pre-Lisbon criminal law and policing measures, HC 683; Home Affairs Committee, Ninth Report, Pre-Lisbon Treaty EU police and criminal justice measures: the UK's opt-in decision, HC 615 Back

46   Eighth Report from the Justice Committee of Session 2013-14, Ministry of Justice measures in the JHA block opt-out, HC 605 Back

47   HC Deb 7 April 2014 col 24 Back

48   HC Deb 10 November 2014 col 1223 Back

49   Evidence taken 18 December 2012, Women Offenders: after the Corston Report HC 92-I; Evidence taken on 9 September 2014 and 24 November 2014, Prisons: planning and policies HC 309  Back

50   HC [2012-13] 339 Back

51   As of 4 March 2015 the Committee had 3,530 followers on Twitter. Back

52   The work of the Lord Chief Justice, evidence taken before the Committee, 2 April 2014, HC 1134. Back


 
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Prepared 20 March 2015