Good morning ladies and gentlemen.
I am delighted to have been asked to give the key note address at the 14th Annual Criminal Justice Management Conference, which has once again brought together a wide range of criminal justice practitioners and stakeholders in order to share best practice and debate the key issues in innovation and reform in the justice sector today.
The conference is an excellent opportunity for me to provide an update on the government’s agenda to modernise and reform the criminal justice sector through the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill, which is currently before Parliament.
The Bill has at its heart a vision for a more robust and fair justice system. It introduces steps to strengthen our approach to the most serious and repeat offenders. It will ensure the penalties available reflect the seriousness of the crimes committed and provide greater certainty for victims. It is vital that we constantly examine our criminal and civil justice systems - not simply to respond to the latest headline but to respond to changing patterns of behaviour and to identify how best we can respond.
This government has a clear strategy to deliver a justice system that keeps the public safe and secure, reduces reoffending and puts victims first. The justice system must keep our communities safe and secure and be on the side of hard working, law abiding citizens. We are already delivering on that promise.
We have ensured that those convicted of a second serious sexual or violent offence face an automatic life sentence.
We have transformed the regime in our prisons so that they are now places of hard work and discipline, where prisoners are expected to engage with their own rehabilitation and work hard to earn their privileges and we are implementing fundamental reforms to transform rehabilitation by bringing together the best of the public, private and voluntary sectors and paying providers in full only if they reduce reoffending.
The Offender Rehabilitation Act 2014 addresses the unacceptable situation of 50,000 short-sentence prisoners being released each year with no support, free to return to their criminal ways.
We have already achieved a lot, but more can and must be done. The Criminal Justice and Courts Bill is an important part of our overall approach to reforming the criminal justice system.
Part 1 of the Bill introduces a firm but fair package of sentencing and criminal law reform. The government is clear that offenders will be properly punished so that the public can both feel safer in their homes and communities and have more confidence in the justice system. Serious and repeat offenders should face the full force of the law for their crimes. It is not right that such offenders can be let off with a simple caution time and again.
The government is tackling automatic early release. It cannot be right that serious sex offenders and terrorists may serve only half their sentence in prison and - regardless of how they have progressed with their rehabilitation - are then released automatically midway through their sentence.
The Bill therefore introduces measures to end automatic early release for anyone given an extended determinate sentence, or sentenced to standard determinate custody for the rape of a child or for serious terrorism offences. No such offenders will be released before the end of their custodial term, unless the Parole Board judges that they no longer pose a risk of serious harm to the public.
Terrorism poses a serious threat to our society. Terrorists who commit or try to commit horrific crimes in this country must face the very toughest punishments. The Bill will increase to life the maximum penalties for a further range of terrorism offences, and it will extend the enhanced dangerous offender regime so that courts can impose robust sentences where they are necessary for these crimes.
It is vital that prisoners comply with the conditions imposed on them on their release. If an offender is repeatedly or wilfully non-compliant with the terms of their licence, they should not be continually recalled to custody for short periods and re-released. The Bill amends the test for the release of offenders who have been recalled to prison for breaching their licence conditions so that it takes into account not just public protection, but the likelihood of the offender committing further breaches, including reoffending.
The government wants to ensure that we increasingly use cutting-edge technology to better monitor the whereabouts of offenders while they are under supervision. Innovative GPS tagging technology will allow location monitoring of offenders, as well as the monitoring of compliance with other conditions, such as curfew and exclusion. The government wants to be ready to harness the potential of this new technology, as it becomes available, to assist with public protection, reducing reoffending and crime detection.
So the government is taking powers in the Bill to enable mandatory location monitoring of offenders who are released on licence. Once the technology becomes available, we will then be able to target it to the best possible effect to protect the public when prisoners are released on conditional release.
The government is also creating a new offence for offenders who abscond after being recalled to custody, so that those who try to avoid serving the remainder of their sentence do not go unpunished. There will be a new maximum penalty of 2 years imprisonment.
The final provisions in part 1 deliver on a commitment that is important to both the Justice Secretary and me. The Bill will extend the extreme pornography offence to include extreme images that depict real or simulated rape or other non-consensual sexual penetration. I am sure that you share my view that such images are wholly unacceptable and that it is right to close this gap in the law.
As part of our ongoing commitment to tackle child grooming, we have listened to the concerns raised by Sarah Champion MP, and the sterling work of the cross-party inquiry into the effectiveness of legislation for tackling child sexual exploitation and trafficking within the UK. As a result of this work and the support of the children’s charity Barnardos, the government brought forward amendments in Lords Committee to amend the grooming offence. The amendment means that the number of initial occasions on which the defendant must meet or communicate with the child in question is reduced from two to one. This change will permit more effective intervention by the police in relation to individuals who could otherwise have been prosecuted only when a second contact had been established and in certain cases may prevent the sexual contact element of the offence from occurring.
We were also pleased to accept an amendment to the Malicious Communications Act 1988 tabled by Angie Bray MP. Her aim was to strengthen the protection of the criminal law in cases such as one in her constituency involving an adult male sending sexually explicit text messages to a 13 year old girl. It is important that the criminal law reflects modern trends, including the rise in the use of the internet and mobile phones to send offensive and distressing material. Angie Bray’s amendments make the offence in the 1988 Act triable either-way, allowing a longer period in which to investigate offences and to bring prosecutions and increasing the maximum penalty, ensuring that the sentence can be proportionate to the seriousness of the offence in appropriate cases.
Part 2 of the Bill deals with the critically important matter of youth justice. Under this government crime and offending by young people is down, with fewer entering the criminal justice system and ending up in custody. However, at present we pay around £100,000 a year for a place in youth custody and yet almost 70% of those offenders go on to reoffend within 12 months. In the case of secure children’s homes, the cost rises beyond £200,000 a place and yet the reoffending outcomes are no different.
No current youth custodial establishment - young offender institutions (YOIs), secure training centres and secure children’s homes - is providing good enough outcomes. For those young offenders where custody is necessary, we want to make the best use of the opportunity to help turn their lives around. We need to be better at rehabilitating young offenders.
Secure colleges will have education at their heart, with all other services designed in support of raising educational attainment and tackling offending behaviour. Figures suggest that 86% of young men in YOIs have been excluded from school at some point, and over half of 15-17 year olds in YOIs have the literacy and numeracy level expected of a 7-11 year old. Secure colleges will provide the support and skills young offenders need to stop reoffending and contribute positively to society in adult life.
This Bill establishes the statutory framework for secure colleges, with further detail to be set out in the Secure College Rules. We want operators of secure colleges to have the freedom to deliver a broad, intensive and engaging curriculum to support and motivate the full ranges of ages and abilities of young people accommodated in these establishments.
Allowing secure college providers this flexibility is all the more important as young people are often only in custody for a short period of time. To deliver a full and high quality curriculum, providers will need to ensure there is access to courses and provision throughout the calendar year recognising that young people will arrive and depart at different times, and that each will start from a different base of educational attainment.
This is an ambitious programme of transformation, but one we are committed to delivering at pace. A step change in youth custody is required if we are to improve outcomes for young people and wider society, and reduce the burden on the taxpayer. To achieve this change the government intends to open a purpose-built secure college pathfinder in Leicestershire in 2017.
Finally let me turn to the provisions of the Bill that deal with courts and tribunals. Our vision is for a justice system that is modern, cost effective and streamlined. That is why the Bill introduces provisions to allow a single magistrate to deal with appropriate cases involving low level regulatory offences, outside a traditional court room, freeing up magistrates to use their time more effectively.
The Bill also introduces a charge, payable by adult offenders on conviction, to contribute towards the costs of the criminal courts. The government already recognises that those who bring cases in the family and civil courts should bear some of the court costs in those jurisdictions. These provisions make that a reality in the criminal sphere, so that those who give rise to the costs of the criminal courts share the burden of those costs, rather than it solely being the burden of the taxpayer.
Repayments can be set at an affordable rate, taking in to account offenders’ circumstances, and we are encouraging rehabilitation by allowing the charge to be remitted after a certain period without reoffending provided the offender has also taken reasonable steps to pay off the charge. In order to ensure that we have maximum flexibility we are also extending the powers of fines officers to vary repayment of financial impositions after default, as well as prior to default.
The Criminal Justice and Courts Bill contains a wide-range of important proposals, the impact of which will deliver a fairer and more modern justice system and one that ensures offenders take responsibility for their actions, where individuals and their communities are properly protected, and where young people are given the tools and opportunities to enable rehabilitation to take place.
There are challenges that continue to confront us. Modern technology has resulted in a new order of criminal behaviour and the government must be agile to confront this. Equally modern technology has given law enforcement agencies greater opportunities than before. The programme today focuses on many of the key issues in the criminal justice system including problems with drugs and better rehabilitation. It promises to be an interesting day.