Justice Questions

Nick takes questions as Minister of State for Criminal Justice

Administration of Justice

2. Guy Opperman (Hexham) (Con): What proposals he is considering to increase the level of efficiency in the administration of justice. [25561]

The Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice (Nick Herbert): Following the spending review, the Ministry of Justice must make a total budgetary saving, including resource and capital spending, of 25% in real terms between 2010-11 and 2014-15.

Guy Opperman: I remind the House of my former profession of barrister. Eleven years ago, the Labour Government introduced the Woolf reforms, which changed all manners of process in the civil courts. What detailed proposals does the Minister have for the same telephone case management in criminal work, particularly post-not guilty pleas, and after-guilty pleas and sending matters for pre-sentence report?

Nick Herbert: We are certainly interested in improving the efficiency of justice by looking at case management, and some encouraging pilots have been run in London, in which costs have been saved through integrated case management arrangements between the Crown Prosecution Service and the police. We are also very interested in employing the greater use of technology, such as virtual courts, and I would be very happy to talk to my hon. Friend about other ideas as well.

Robert Flello (Stoke-on-Trent South) (Lab): In the name of so-called efficiency of justice, the Secretary of State has scrapped the post of chief coroner, a move widely condemned by organisations such as Inquest and the Royal British Legion. They point out that tens of thousands of people every year are forced to grapple with the archaic, unaccountable coroners system, which needs the reforms promised by the Coroners and Justice Act 2009. The Minister said that scrapping the chief coroner was necessary to save money, but what assessment has he made of the increased costs that will be incurred through the greater use of judicial review, which is bound to result from this short-sighted decision? May I invite the Secretary of State or his Minister to put on record now exactly what the real cost will be of that false efficiency? Or will he take this opportunity to reverse that misguided proposal?

Nick Herbert: We do not think that this was a sustainable proposal, with set-up costs of £10 million and running costs of £6 million a year. The important thing now is to reform the coroners system appropriately to ensure the efficient administration of justice in this area.

Sir Alan Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed) (LD): What steps are Ministers taking to ensure that savings do not simply become higher costs for other Departments or other parts of their own Department, whether in the context of magistrates court closures, which adds to police costs, or changes in the legal aid system that generate demand for expenditure elsewhere? Is there a mechanism for assessing how costs will fall elsewhere?

Nick Herbert: I agree with my right hon. Friend about the importance of ensuring that what he describes does not happen, but he will know that there is significant under-utilisation of magistrates courts. That is why we have had to take this action in consulting about closure, not least in relation to the Tynedale magistrates court, which is adjacent to his constituency in Northumberland and which is operating at a utilisation rate of only about two thirds.

National Offender Management Service

3. Luciana Berger (Liverpool, Wavertree) (Lab/Co-op): What assessment he has made of the adequacy of the support given by the National Offender Management Service to children in young offender institutions who have been in care. [25562]

The Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice (Nick Herbert): The National Offender Management Service has a responsibility to safeguard the welfare of all young people in custody, and all young offender institutions are regularly inspected by Her Majesty's inspectorate of prisons. Revised guidance on the responsibilities of local authorities to support young people leaving care is due to be published shortly by the Department for Education. It will include a chapter dedicated to the responsibilities for supporting care leavers involved in the criminal justice system.

Luciana Berger: I thank the Minister for that reply. I recently met representatives of the Liverpool Children in Care Council and heard young people expressing concern about the level of support given to young offenders who are looked-after children. Typically, they do not have the same support networks that other young offenders have. Will the Minister now commit to revisiting this issue to ensure that vulnerable young offenders are given the help and support that they need to get their lives back on track?

Nick Herbert: I certainly agree with the hon. Lady about the importance of providing such support. Last week, I visited Feltham young offenders institution with the Mayor of London and saw how innovative arrangements to provide greater support and counselling for young people had a considerably reduced the recidivism rate on a particular wing in that institution. That shows that, with better rehabilitation, we can get better results. I would be very happy to talk to the hon. Lady about any specific ideas she might have for improving the system.

Mr David Burrowes (Enfield, Southgate) (Con): Is it any wonder that children in care do not have the necessary continuity of support once they are in custody, given that the full financial responsibility of local authorities is lost at that point? Will the Government ensure that when such children in care are in custody, they are not out of sight, out of mind and off the financial books of the local authorities?

Nick Herbert: It is important to ensure that the incentives are right, that we deter the inappropriate use of custody for young people and that local authorities are fully focused on what they need to do to reduce recidivism before the use of custody becomes important.

Mr George Howarth (Knowsley) (Lab): The Minister will be aware that, according to a written ministerial statement today, the Omand review of the case of Jon Venables was released this morning. It is 114 pages long. Is he also aware that my constituent, Ralph Bulger, the father of James Bulger, and his brother Jimmy Bulger knew nothing about the release of this report today until the media contacted them, asking for a statement on what they thought would be in this 114-page document? Can he ensure that this kind of thing does not happen again?

Nick Herbert: My understanding is that appropriate arrangements should have been made, and that Mr Bulger was aware of the report but not its release. I shall of course look into the matter, and I am happy to talk to the right hon. Gentleman about what went wrong, if something went wrong in this case.

Offenders (Alcohol Dependency)

13. Nick Smith (Blaenau Gwent) (Lab): What recent estimate he has made of the number of offenders with an alcohol dependency. [25572]

17. Mrs Jenny Chapman (Darlington) (Lab): What recent estimate he has made of the number of offenders with an alcohol dependency. [25576]

The Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice (Nick Herbert): In a survey carried out in 2005-06, 23% of prisoners sentenced from one month to four years reported having drunk alcohol four weeks prior to custody and said that they would find it quite difficult or impossible to stop drinking. We also estimate that 37% of offenders subject to community orders have an alcohol-related problem linked to their offending and their risk of reconviction.

Nick Smith: I thank the Minister for that reply. Given that alcohol misuse is estimated to cost £7.3 billion in crime and antisocial behaviour, and that it was a factor in 18,000 incidents of violent crime in Wales in 2008, can he assure the House that help for prisoners with alcohol problems will be given the same priority as help for offenders with drug problems?

Nick Herbert: It is important that alcohol problems are tackled, both among offenders given community orders and those in custody. We know that treatment for alcohol problems is cost-effective; the United Kingdom alcohol treatment trial found that for every pound spent on treating problem drinkers £5 is saved on costs to health, social and criminal justice services. That is why, in the long term, providing such services on a payment-by-results basis is the answer.

Mrs Chapman: Given the undeniable link between alcohol misuse and crime, does the Minister believe that someone's being excessively drunk is seen as sufficiently aggravating by the courts when they pass sentence?

Nick Herbert: We have not received any representations to the contrary. These matters can be considered by the Sentencing Guidelines Council, and we believe that sufficient powers are available to the courts. The important thing is that when offenders are sentenced they should receive adequate treatment-that applies both to community and jail sentences-so that addiction can be dealt with.

Topical Questions

T5. [25589] Priti Patel (Witham) (Con): Families in Witham town are concerned about the presence of paedophiles and sex offenders, and the risk that they pose to children in our local community. What steps is the Secretary of State taking, in conjunction with other Government agencies, to ensure that my constituents are protected from those dangerous individuals?

The Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice (Nick Herbert): My hon. Friend might know about the child sex offender disclosure scheme, which is being extended to 24 police 11 police force areas. It allows members of the public to ask the police to check whether people have contact with their children at risk. They have already successfully protected children and provided considerable reassurance to parents.

Document type



23 November 2010


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