Justice Questions

13th November 2018

David Gauke answers MPs’ questions to the Ministry of Justice.

Access to Justice: Persons with Disabilities

6. What recent assessment he has made of his Department’s compliance with article 13 of the UN convention on the rights of persons with disabilities on access to justice. [907507]

The Government remain fully committed to the convention, and we assess the UK’s implementation of article 13 of the convention as part of the reporting process to the UN. The latest report to the UN was this year. To improve access to justice for people with disabilities, we are investing £1 billion in reforming the Courts and Tribunals Service, to continue to ensure that we have a modern justice system that is accessible to all. We are also increasing the use of technology to benefit the mobility impaired, who may have greater opportunity to participate in court and tribunal services without needing to travel to a hearing centre.

Article 13 of the UN convention on the rights of persons with disabilities, to which we are a signatory, goes well beyond access to and the right to a fair trial and includes all aspects of democracy, rule of law and the effective administration of justice for all people. Given that disabled people have been disproportionately affected by cuts to legal aid for social security cases, and that hate crimes against disabled people are on the rise and employment discrimination is increasing, when will the Justice Secretary ensure that we fulfil our commitments under article 13?

We do fulfil our commitments, and I have to point out what we do as a country. We are proud of our record in supporting disabled people, including through the landmark Disability Discrimination Act 1995, and we have some of the strongest equalities legislation in the world, including the Equality Act 2010.

Hansard
 

Topical Questions

T1. If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities. [907526]

I am pleased to inform Parliament that, as the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, my hon. Friend the Member for Charnwood (Edward Argar), announced on Friday, we have awarded £3.3 million to 12 organisations to help to divert vulnerable women from crime and reduce reoffending. We know that a large number of female offenders are in extremely vulnerable positions. Many face issues with substance misuse and mental health problems, often as a result of repeated abuse and trauma. This is the first wave of funding from the £5 million investment in community provision announced in the female offender strategy, which sets out a range of measures aimed at shifting focus away from custody towards rehabilitative community services.

My constituent Alison suffers economic domestic abuse from an ex-partner, but because of this Government’s cuts to legal aid she cannot afford legal representation to get the fresh start she needs. Will the Secretary of State meet me to discuss Alison’s situation and explain how she can navigate an underfunded legal system that limits access to justice?

The hon. Lady will be aware that we are currently looking at access to justice as part of our post-implementation review. In terms of the particular case she mentions, I know that the courts Minister will be happy to meet her.

Hansard
 

The Prime Minister told her party conference that austerity was over, and the Chancellor said that austerity was finally coming to an end, but it seems that they did not have the Ministry of Justice in mind. The Treasury’s own figures—I have them here—show that justice budgets will be slashed by £300 million next year, and that is on top of hundreds of millions of pounds of cuts this year. Those cuts risk pushing justice from repeated crises to breaking point. Will the Secretary of State confirm that, as the Treasury says, justice budgts will indeed be cut by £300 million next year, and that these brutal cuts show that we cannot rely on the Conservatives to end austerity, injustice or anything else?

In the recent Budget, the Chancellor announced an extra £52 million for the MOJ to be spent in the course of this year. The figures to which the hon. Gentleman has referred are in the 2015 spending review. At the time of the 2017 general election, when the Labour party proposed spending that would increase Government debt by a trillion pounds, there was nothing there for the MOJ. Let us remember that next time the hon. Gentleman stands up and rants about spending on the MOJ.

Hansard
 

T4. A knife crime epidemic is facing this country, so can the Government explain why four in 10 criminals who are caught in possession of a knife for a second time are not jailed, as the law requires? [907529]

Since the introduction of the minimum custodial term in 2015, people who are caught for repeat possession of a knife are now more likely to go to prison. Recent statistics show that 83% of offenders received a custodial sentence, which is an increase from 68% in the year ending June 2015. It is also worth pointing out that average custodial lengths are also going up—from 7.1 months in the year ending June 2017, to 7.9 months in the year ending June 2018.

When a prisoner commits a serious violent offence in prison, will Ministers take action to ensure that prosecutions for such offences result in additions to the prisoner’s sentence, not concurrent sentences?

My hon. Friend raises an important point. Of course, the House recently passed legislation to increase sentences for violent crimes committed against prison officers and other emergency workers. It is right that we do so, and these matters need to be taken very seriously. It is important that the police, the Crown Prosecution Service and prison authorities work closely to ensure that we do not allow this activity to continue.

Hansard
 

I welcome the Lord Chancellor’s confirmation that the female offender strategy signals a shift from custody to rehabilitation. I am also grateful, as it will be, for the award to the Nelson Trust. Would the Minister like to come and see the astonishing work of the Nelson Trust in Gloucester to help former female offenders?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his persistence on this topic, and I am pleased to say that I understand that the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, my hon. Friend the Member for Charnwood (Edward Argar), will be visiting the Nelson Trust very shortly.

Hansard
 

T6. Today’s Financial Times cites Bristol Citizens Advice as saying that many more people are now getting into problem debt because of household bills rather than, for example, overspending on their credit cards. Will the Minister urge councils to follow the example of Bristol City Council which, led by Councillors Craig Cheney and Paul Goggin, is introducing an ethical collection policy, rather than deploying bailiffs to collect what are sometimes very small debts from people who have got into debt through no fault of their own? We have already heard today about some of the problems involving intimidation by rogue bailiffs. [907531]

I am very happy to look at what is happening in Bristol. Clearly it is right that debt collection measures are proportionate, and the hon. Lady raises an important point about that. One of the best ways to ensure that living standards increase and debt levels do not rise is by making sure that we get more people into work, and we are succeeding in that.

In order to discourage reoffending it is essential that ex-offenders have settled accommodation when they leave prison. What action is my right hon. Friend taking so that prison governors ensure that there is settled accommodation, as is required under the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017?

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for his work on the Homelessness Reduction Act. It is right that local authorities and prison governors work closely together to make sure that we provide that accommodation. There are three factors that help to bring down reoffending: ensuring that an offender gets a job, has accommodation—a roof over their head—and maintains family ties. If we can pursue all those, we will help to bring down reoffending.

Hansard

 

T7. In the light of yet another stabbing at the weekend in Skelmersdale, and having heard the Secretary of State’s response to my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull East (Karl Turner), will the right hon. Gentleman indicate whether he is satisfied that the penalties for knife crime and for those convicted of illegally carrying a knife are adequate and effective, especially as a deterrent? [907532]

As I have already set out, we are seeing more people going to prison and custodial sentences are increasing for these offences following the change in the law. On the question of deterrence, this is in part about sentencing, and these are clearly serious offences, but there are other factors when it comes to the deterrent effect; it is not just about sentences. We have to bear that in mind as well.

Hansard
 

T8. Within the last week, two separate Hindu temples, the Shree Swaminarayan temple in Willesden and the Shree Kutch Satsang Swaminarayan temple in Kenton, have been broken into and religious icons have been stolen. Can the Minister confirm that these will be treated as hate crimes and not just ignored by the police, given that they targeted people of one faith? [907533]

Those specific cases will be a matter for the police and for the Crown Prosecution Service, but if activity of this sort is targeted on the basis of religious belief, that is completely unacceptable and I am sure that the whole House is united in condemning it.

Hansard

I am very grateful, Mr Speaker. The Secretary of State has a particular responsibility to protect the interests of the judiciary. Recruitment to senior judicial office is a continuing problem, and there is a regular shortfall. He has indicated that he intends to consider seriously the recommendations of the Senior Salaries Review Body. When can we expect a response to this, given that a number of important posts are due to fall vacant?

My hon. Friend is right to highlight the shortage, particularly at the High Court, and it is right that we should look seriously at the proposals of the Senior Salaries Review Body. I am not going to put a date on when we will have completed that process, but it is important that when we do so, we get judicial recruitment on to a sustainable basis.

Hansard

 

T10. There were many hundreds of responses to the Ministry’s proposals to close Cambridge magistrates court, but there has still not been a proper response to the consultation. Will the Secretary of State tell me when that will happen? [907535]

The most important response is that we have decided not to close that court.

Given that we have 10,000 foreign national offenders in our prisons, with which new countries are we seeking to sign compulsory prisoner transfer agreements?

We always seek to find new opportunities to improve the system, and we will continue to do so.

Hansard
 

Thank you, Mr Speaker. Does the Secretary of State recognise that it is intolerable that employment and support allowance claimants at the Norwich tribunal are waiting 40 weeks—nine months—for their appeal hearing, and that personal independence payment claimants are waiting six months, particularly when 71% of those appeals are successful? What is he doing to change that?

We work with the Department for Work and Pensions on such matters. If I recall correctly, there has been, over a period, progress in bringing down some of the lengths of time, but I will happily look into the matter and write to the right hon. Gentleman.

Hansard

 

Surgeries

David holds regular surgeries at various places in the constituency, including Rickmansworth, South Oxhey, Berkhamsted and Tring. 
 
Forthcoming dates:

2019

4th January, Rickmansworth
18th January, Tring
1st February, South Oxhey
15th February, Berkhamsted
1st March, Rickmansworth

Call 01923 771781 to make an appointment.

Record of surgeries

 

View South West Hertfordshire in a larger map