Justice Committee - weekly update
21 June 2019
At the end of sitting weeks the Justice Committee publishes a brief summary of its activities in the form of a weekly update.
This week (commencing 17 June 2019)
Report: ‘The role of the magistracy: follow-up'
On Tuesday, the Committee published its 18th Report of Session 2017-19 on our follow-up inquiry into the role of the magistracy. This inquiry followed up on the report the previous Justice Committee produced in 2016.
In our report, the Committee:
- Repeats its 2016 recommendation, that the Government should develop and adopt a national strategy for the magistracy
- Recommends a wider and more proactive approach to recruitment. We voice concern about the barriers facing employees who want to become magistrates, undermining efforts to widen the age profile of the magistracy.
- Concludes that magistrates' training falls short of what is required. The MoJ should increase its funding to HMCTS to allow additional investment.
- Acknowledges the challenges that the programme of court closures has presented for magistrates. HMCTS must put the principle of identifying supplementary venues into practice urgently with a focus on where court closures have had the greatest impact.
Commenting on the report, Chair of the Justice Committee, Bob Neill MP, said:
“Magistrates and the criminal justice system as a whole have been badly let down by the failure of the Government to take action and provide appropriate funding to tackle the major issues we flagged in our 2016 report.
Morale is not improving, despite the Minister's efforts to reassure us. The action promised three years ago has failed to materialise, and we again call for an appropriate national strategy. Merely identifying the magistracy as a component within the Government's wider strategy for the judiciary is inadequate.'
The Chair's full comments and a summary of the report can be found here.
Other business this week Evidence session: Prison Governance
On Tuesday, we had our first public evidence session as part of our inquiry on prison governance. The session covered the role of prison governors, the accountability structures they work within and the oversight arrangements for private prisons.
We heard from:
- Andrea Albutt, President of the Prison Governors Association
- Frances Crook, Chief Executive of the Howard League
- Janine McDowell, CEO, Justice Services, Sodexo
- Wyn Jones, Custodial Operations Director, Serco
- Neil Richards, Director of Custodial Contracts, HMPPS
- Mark Brickell, Deputy Director, Ministry of Justice
You can watch the session back here.
And read the transcript here.
The Committee's inquiry into Prison Governance is still accepting written evidence. The Committee would welcome written submissions of up to 3,000 words on all or some of the questions set out in the terms of reference. For more information see here.
General debate on court closures and access to justice
On Thursday, several Members of the Justice Committee contributed to a general debate in the House of Commons on court closures and access to justice. The debate was sponsored by Bambos Charalambous MP, Ellie Reeves MP and the Chair, with 5 Committee Members in total speaking.
Members' contributions related to issues arising from the impact of court closures on access to justice. The debate drew the House's attention to evidence the Committee has received as part of its ongoing inquiry into court reform, as well as in our follow-up report into the role of the magistracy (link above).
In this letter, the Minister let us know that the Government intends to respond to our report on bailiffs and the enforcement of debt in the Summer.
The Committee will next meet on Tuesday 25 June at 10am. We will hold our third public evidence session on our inquiry into court and tribunals reform. We will ask about digital justice, online courts, video hearings and the open justice principle. We will be hearing from:
- Jodie Blackstock, Legal Director, JUSTICE
- Penelope Gibbs, Director, Transform Justice
- Professor Richard Susskind
- Lisa Wintersteiger, Chief Executive, Law for Life
If you wish to watch in person from the public gallery you can. The meeting will be held in Room 6, Palace of Westminster. Please read this guidance on visiting Parliament. Or watch the session online (either live or on catch up).