October 2015 articles archive:

Does the scrapping of Glen Parva secure college and the lifting of a book ban herald the start to serious reform of the failing prison system?

How much of Michael Gove's vision for prisons and the criminal justice system will be effective in righting self-inflicted wrongs remains to be seen.

It may be early days to compare the new Justice Secretary's methods and policies with those of his predecessor but, in view of the controversy and concern that surrounded the reforms to the role of Lord Chancellor and some of the actions of the previous Lord Chancellor, it may be worth students discussing some of the policies that have emerged from the present Lord Chancellor.


The Rt Hon Michael Gove MP was appointed Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice on 10 May 2015. Gove declares himself a “liberal on criminal justice”. He replaced Chris Grayling MP as Justice Secretary following the General Elections in May 2015.


We start by looking at some of Gove's early decisions. Law students may have their own views about the decisions already made and about the way forward.


The Justice Secretary Michael Gove has scrapped a flagship policy of his predecessor Chris Grayling by abandoning plans to build a giant fortified school alongside the existing Young Offenders Institute in Tigers Road, Glen Parva. The school was to be a pilot project aimed at providing better education for 320 young offenders aged 12 to 17. It was hoped the approach would have cut re-offending rates.


The Ministry of Justice website still refers to plans to introduce a pathfinder Secure College, at Glen Parva in the East Midlands in 2017. The Proposal was the coalition's response to the re-offending rates amongst young offenders. The plans met with sustained opposition from various charitable organisations. They argued that such a scheme, which would put a large proportion of young offenders in one place, was misguided. The secure college plan was estimated to cost £100m.,The fall in the population figures of young persons in custody of some 26% between January 2013 and April 2015 seems to have made the decision to scrap the scheme all the more easier.


The Ministry of Justice has apparently not given up on rehabilitation though and is reported to be considering granting more powers to prison governors so that they can focus on education in prisons as a means of bringing about a reduction in re-offending. The plan also includes giving prisons a greater degree of independence.


It did not take the Justice Minister long to lift the book ban imposed by his predecessor, Chris Grayling, as a result prison inmates will be able to keep 12 books in their cells without permission following Michael Gove further easing the restrictions. The ban on friends and family sending books to prisoners, imposed by Gove’s predecessor Chris Grayling, was itself lifted earlier this year following a High Court ruling that restricting their access to books was unlawful and indicating that books were essential to a prisoner’s rehabilitation. Much has already been written about the book ban but is a pattern emerging here?


Continuing with the Justice Secretary's apparent willingness to to be more flexible Michael Gove responded to an application for judicial review made on behalf of victims of asbestos- related disease. In the summer of 2015 Michael Gove agreed to waive new civil court fees in claims cases involving asbestos-related disease. The previous Lord Chancellor, Chris Grayling, had a rather more antagonistic and limited view of the judicial review process.


The new fees arose because the Ministry of Justice imposed a 5% levy on all claims over £10,000. The effect of the levy scheme was that claimants can be charged up to £10,000 in up-front fees in claims valued up to £200,000 and claims for asbestos-related disease are regarded at the higher end of the scale. Justice Secretary Michael Gove has also agreed to exclude from the definition of ‘disposable capital’ compensation awards made to mesothelioma sufferers under the Pneumoconiosis Workers Compensation Act, the 2008 Scheme and the Diffuse Mesothelioma Payment Scheme. At one time the government took the view that claimants could use the awards to pay the court fees, a view which completely ignored the reality that victims were entitled to compensation and took no account of the predicaments that the victims found themselves in.


Finally the Justice Secretary offers to suspend the latest cut in Legal Aid fees during talks with criminal law solicitors' representatives. The current cuts amounted to some 8.75% and have been met with considerable opposition within the legal profession.


The Ministry of Justice said at the time “The Lord Chancellor recently met the leadership of the criminal solicitors’ profession. He explained that he is minded to suspend the latest 8.75% fee cut – introduced in July – for three months from 11 January 2016 in order to support firms as the new contracts are introduced. However, this suspension is contingent upon the profession continuing to engage constructively during the transition to the new contracting system.”


Time will tell but this pattern of constructivism seems markedly different from the methods of the previous Lord Chancellor.


How much of Michael Gove's vision for prisons and the criminal justice system will be effective in righting self-inflicted wrongs remains to be seen. In the meantime, you and your fellow law student colleagues may wish to discuss some of these proposals and the future of the justice system.




Michael Gove scraps £100m 'secure college' plan in U-turn ..

Gove praised as 'breath of fresh air' by penal reform groups ...

Michael Gove unveils review of prison education in England ...

Prison book ban to be overturned by Michael Gove | UK .


Michael Gove holds out legal aid olive branch - The Guardian

Frances Crook's blog - The Howard League for Penal Reform

The Lord Chancellor - UK Parliament

Michael Gove doesn't really want to bring back hanging

Gove offers to suspend legal aid fee cut - Law Society Gazette


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