Oral Answers to Questions

Chris Philp Excerpts
Tuesday 14th September 2021

(9 months, 2 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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Jeff Smith Portrait Jeff Smith (Manchester, Withington) (Lab)
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19. What plans his Department has to increase the number of Nightingale courts.

Chris Philp Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Chris Philp)
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I am pleased to tell the House that there are currently 47 Nightingale courtrooms in operation, of which 28 are used for Crown court purposes, and we are in the process of extending the operation of 32 of those until the end of March. I am sure colleagues across the House will welcome that. In addition, we are in the process of reopening 60 existing courtrooms in the Crown court estate that had been closed owing to social distancing; more than half have already reopened. When all of that is done, we expect to have about 500 Crown courtrooms available, of which well over half will be capable of accommodating jury trials.

Alex Norris Portrait Alex Norris
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I am grateful for that answer. We have one such Nightingale court in Nottingham, but the backlogs across Nottingham and Nottinghamshire have grown to be extraordinary, with constituents finding the dates for their cases going to the back end of 2022. That will not do. It is bad for victims and bad for the strength of those cases as memories fade for witnesses and similar. Will the Minister commit to meet me and other Nottingham and Nottinghamshire Members to talk about what more we can do in our community to get the backlogs down?

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
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The relevant Justice Minister would be delighted to meet and discuss these issues. Naturally, the covid pandemic has had a significant impact on the justice system, but that is why the Government have: invested an extra quarter of a billion pounds in covid recovery; hired 1,600 staff for Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service; deployed the Cloud video platform that at its peak was hearing 20,000 cases across the system remotely; and had the 47 extra Nightingale courtrooms. I am sure the House will unite in welcoming those measures. Our aim is to get cases heard as quickly as possible.

Jeff Smith Portrait Jeff Smith
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Nationally we have a record high Crown court backlog of about 60,000 cases a result of the court closures and a decade of Tory cuts. Will the Government commit to continuing Nightingale courts until the backlog has cleared? When does the Minister think that will happen?

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
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First, the number of outstanding cases is principally a function of the pandemic. The hon. Member may be interested to know that in March 2020—before the covid pandemic—the outstanding case load was about 39,000, which the House will be interested to hear was substantially lower than the 47,000 bequeathed by the last Labour Government. I have laid out the investments we are making in court recovery, including the quarter of a billion pounds being spent, and this financial year there is no limitation on Crown court sitting days. The Government’s commitment to hearing these cases is without question.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I remind the Minister that the courtroom in Chorley is still available—it is back up for sale.

--- Later in debate ---
Mark Pawsey Portrait Mark Pawsey (Rugby) (Con)
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T7. My constituent is involved in a case where controlling and coercive behaviour is alleged, and the case has been delayed due to both covid and a number of failures within the court process. The delays mean she continues to have to interact with her ex-partner on matters such as arranging contact with their children, causing her great distress in the process. What steps is the Department taking to ensure that victims of domestic abuse are able to have their cases heard in a timely manner?

Chris Philp Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Chris Philp)
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I am extremely sorry to hear of the experience hon. Friend’s constituent has undergone. I can confirm that this area is a priority in court recovery from covid. For example, domestic violence protection orders are being prioritised. In cases where there is a particular vulnerability, the judiciary, in deciding which cases to list, give that careful consideration. As I laid out in answer to the very first question, significant additional resources have gone into the justice system, which have resulted in higher levels of public family law disposals—they are significantly higher this year than last. We are using remote hearing technology and getting extra sitting days organised, for exactly the reasons he mentioned; hearing awful cases such as the one he described remains a significant priority.

Alan Brown Portrait Alan Brown (Kilmarnock and Loudoun) (SNP)
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T8. I come back to female Afghan judges, where the key question is: what steps is the Department taking to allow them safe passage out of Afghanistan? What timeframe is it working to? When does it think will be too late, because the executions will have begun?

Oral Answers to Questions

Chris Philp Excerpts
Tuesday 29th June 2021

(12 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Navendu Mishra Portrait Navendu Mishra (Stockport) (Lab)
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What steps his Department is taking to increase court capacity.

Chris Philp Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Chris Philp)
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The pandemic has affected courts, like it has affected so many other areas of life. The Government have responded energetically and comprehensively, for example by opening 60 new Nightingale courtrooms, hiring an extra 1,600 Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service staff, injecting hundreds of millions of pounds extra into the system, and making sure that around 20,000 hearings a week can now be conducted online. These measures are designed to enable court recovery, and I can assure the House that these efforts will continue.

Alex Davies-Jones Portrait Alex Davies-Jones
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The Minister’s total failure to improve court waiting times is having a very real-world cost, no more so than for my 100-year-old constituent whose fraud case against a former carer amounts to more than a quarter of a million pounds. Despite initiating the case more than four years ago, that elderly woman is still waiting and is unlikely to see justice served in her lifetime. The Minister knows about that case, as I have written to his Department on multiple occasions, but still the delays persist. What exactly does he have to say to my constituent, along with the thousands of others like her who are once again being left behind by this Government and denied justice?

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
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Listing of individual cases is a judicial function, and there are sometimes legal reasons why cases get put off. I must say that in Wales, actually, the court system is performing particularly well at the moment. The hon. Lady talks about delays. Of course, during the pandemic some delays have built up, but in the magistrates court, for example, about half of the backlog that accumulated due to covid, which peaked in about August last year, has already been removed. The outstanding case load in the magistrates court is currently dropping at a rate of around 2,000 a week. I also gently point out that the outstanding case load prior to the pandemic in the Crown court, at 39,000 cases, was considerably lower than the 47,000 cases in 2010.

Navendu Mishra Portrait Navendu Mishra
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The Crown court backlog has reached a new record high of nearly 60,000 cases. That is the result of a decade of Conservative cuts and court closures. Will the Government commit to continuing Nightingale courts until the backlog is cleared?

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
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We are continuing Nightingale courtrooms. We are also saying to the judiciary, critically, that there will be no constraint on Crown court sitting days this current financial year; the judiciary can list as many cases as they are physically able to. On Crown court numbers, clearly, jury trials and pandemics do not mix very well, but thanks to the steps taken, we have seen the corner turned just recently—in the last few weeks. Crown court case numbers are beginning to edge down for the first time, and we are committed to making sure that continues.

Robert Neill Portrait Sir Robert Neill (Bromley and Chislehurst) (Con) [V]
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I welcome the Minister’s last point, because the Director of Public Prosecutions told the Justice Committee two weeks ago that case loads in the Crown court are currently at 95% of physical capacity, making allowance for the Nightingale courts, but that the Crown Prosecution Service’s total case load has increased by some 53% since February 2020. Does the Minister agree that that must mean that, to keep the backlog reducing in a sustainable fashion, we must have long-term, continued investment in increased court capacity, but also in judges and recorders, in court staff available to hear and try cases, and in CPS staff to ensure that they are ready for trial on time?

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
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The Chair of the Justice Committee is, as always, right in his analysis. We need to ensure that the capacity exists and, for the reason he mentioned, 1,600 extra staff have already been hired for Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service. He also mentioned Crown Prosecution Service capacity. I think its budget recently went up by about £80 million to enable 400 additional prosecutors to be hired.

In relation to judicial capacity, we will shortly bring forward measures to increase the mandatory retirement age for magistrates and judges from 70 to 75, which we hope will retain the most experienced judges who will be able to sit and hear these cases. In relation to physical courtroom capacity, we have clearly invested enormously in technology to enable remote hearings and, as I mentioned, about 20,000 a week are taking place. In addition to that, we have the 60 Nightingale courtrooms. When social distancing is relaxed—nothing has been confirmed, but we have a reasonable expectation that it will be in the near future—a reduction in those requirements will enable more courtrooms to be used safely than is the case today, which will also greatly assist court recovery.

Alex Cunningham Portrait Alex Cunningham (Stockton North) (Lab)
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The Minister has been keen to talk up the Government’s efforts to get court waiting lists down, but it is vital that efficiency does not come at the expense of effective and proper justice. I hope he is aware of the controversy surrounding the use of the single justice procedure in relation to the thousands of people prosecuted for coronavirus-related offences and the fact that hundreds—the bulk in their absence—may have been wrongly charged and convicted. Indeed, 37 people have been unlawfully prosecuted under schedule 22 of the Coronavirus Act 2020, which has never been activated in England. When that problem was highlighted by Big Brother Watch and The Guardian newspaper, the Ministry of Justice said that

“defendants can…have their conviction voided and reheard if necessary.”

Surely the Minister agrees that such incompetence adds to the burden of the courts, is more expensive, weakens justice and may well be unlawful. What is he going to do about it?

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
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First, it is important to make clear that prosecution decisions are taken by the independent Crown Prosecution Service, not by the courts system. Secondly, when it comes to maintaining standards of justice, I think the right hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy), the shadow Secretary of State, floated the idea of having smaller juries earlier in the pandemic. Of course, we have maintained juries at 12. However, where unusual measures such as remote hearings have had to be taken throughout the pandemic, the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice has ensured that justice standards have been maintained. Judges have always had the proper discretion to direct proceedings in their courtrooms so that justice is not only properly done but fairly done.

Hannah Bardell Portrait Hannah Bardell (Livingston) (SNP)
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What plans he has to bring forward legislative proposals to amend the Human Rights Act 1998.

Protecting the Public and Justice for Victims

Chris Philp Excerpts
Wednesday 9th June 2021

(1 year ago)

Commons Chamber
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Chris Philp Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Chris Philp)
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It is a great pleasure to be able to close this evening’s debate.

The covid pandemic is truly unprecedented. It has affected every corner of our lives; from hospital operations denied, to schools closed, to businesses struggling, and even how Parliament itself operates, we have seen covid’s effects. The court system is of course no different; bringing people safely into buildings for trials and hearings, especially jury trials, is a difficult thing to do. It has required a Herculean effort over the last year and more to keep our justice system operating, and I would like to start by paying tribute to the judiciary, the staff of Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service, barristers, solicitors, the Crown Prosecution Service, the police, the National Probation Service and so many others who have worked tirelessly in extraordinarily difficult circumstances to keep our justice system running.

In doing that we have, as I have said, had to confront a Herculean task, yet at the beginning of this afternoon’s debate the right hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy) suggested from the Opposition Front Bench that there had been inaction by the Government during this time; extraordinarily, that was what the shadow Justice Secretary said. Nothing is further from the truth, however. Impressive action has been taken in the last year to combat the impact of coronavirus on our court system: a quarter of a billion pounds extra spent on making sure our justice system can still operate; 1,600 extra HMCTS staff hired; 402 Crown court jury courtrooms set up, more than the target of 390; and a rapid deployment of remote hearing technology that has enabled 20,000 remote hearings a week, a 4,000% increase on the number before the pandemic.

Catherine West Portrait Catherine West
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The title of this debate is “Justice for Victims”. What advice would the Minister give me as a constituency MP when a young victim says, “I’m not going to pursue that case because I cannot give the next four years of my life to that man”? What is his advice when she says, “I’m just going to go and get my cousins to beat him up”?

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
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I would advise any Member of Parliament to do everything they can to support victims in their constituency to pursue prosecution. I will talk in a few minutes about some of the measures we are taking to speed up the justice system further and help and support victims, particularly women victims and victims of sexual abuse and domestic violence, but we should all encourage and support our constituents. I know the hon. Lady would do that; I am sure she is doing it, as of course we all do, and I will discuss some of those measures in just a moment.

I was talking, however, about the action we are taking to ensure that justice is delivered and that victims like the hon. Lady’s constituent can have confidence. In addition to those 20,000 remote hearings a week, speeding up justice for people like the hon. Lady’s constituent, we now have covid-safe measures in 450 courtrooms. We have opened up 60 Nightingale courtrooms around the country. We have got super-courts coming to hear multi-hander trials. And to support victims such as the hon. Lady’s constituent we are spending this year across Government, not just in the MOJ, £300 million to give victims the support, encouragement and help they need, exactly as the hon. Lady was saying a moment ago.

These actions have delivered results. As my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Laura Farris) said in her excellent speech, despite these difficulties the England and Wales jurisdiction is leading the world in court recovery. Many jurisdictions have barely restarted jury trials. We restarted jury trials in May of last year, and we were the first jurisdiction of our kind to do so. Backlogs in other jurisdictions are far higher than ours when we adjust for size.

Talking about our jurisdictions, in the magistrates court—let us start there—the outstanding caseload is dropping now by about 2,000 cases a week. The outstanding caseload at one point, at the height of the pandemic back in the summer of last year, went up to 525,000. As the shadow Justice Secretary said in his remarks, it is now back down to 460,000. About half of the extra caseload caused by covid has now been removed, and every single week it is relentlessly going down further. That is thanks to the work of our magistrates, such as my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington South (Andy Carter), who sits on the bench in Merseyside. I pay tribute to him and his colleagues for the work they have done in reducing that outstanding caseload in magistrates courts week in and week out.

The Crown court is obviously more difficult because jury trials and pandemics do not very well mix, and the number of outstanding cases has gone up. However, I can report to the House that the level of disposals—[Interruption.] I am coming on to that. The level of disposals now in the Crown court is running above the pre-covid level. It is running about 5% above the pre-covid level, as of the week commencing 25 April, which was just a few weeks ago. The most recent management data we have—it is not yet published, and is subject, of course, to verification—from the last few weeks now shows the outstanding caseload beginning to turn the corner and decline as these measures take effect.

Catherine West Portrait Catherine West
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Will the Minister give way?

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
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Of course.

Catherine West Portrait Catherine West
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There is so much time; it is only 6.46 pm. Could the Minister explain to me why there is a three-month waiting list for an independent sexual violence adviser, and why those individuals are not allowed to go into the courtroom when the victim desperately needs them to go in with them on the day? At the moment, they are not allowed into the courtroom.

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
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I thank the hon. Lady for her comment. For the very reasons she mentions, we are currently recruiting a large number of additional ISVAs—independent sexual violence advisers. A lot of extra money has gone into this in the last year, and the recruitment is well under way. Those ISVAs do provide vital support to victims to make sure they are able to give their evidence.

I have outlined the action we have taken—the substantial action we have taken—and the results that it is delivering. But we are not resting there; we are doing more. In this current financial year, the Lord Chancellor—my right hon. and learned Friend has just joined us—has made it clear, as has the Lord Chief Justice, that Crown court sitting day numbers will not be a limit to listing. We have given a clear signal to the judiciary to list as much as they possibly can without limitation, and I am sure that our country’s judges will be listening to our proceedings this afternoon and will list cases accordingly.

We are also going to continue opening more Nightingale courts, and we are going to have some super courts to hear multi-hander cases. Of course, I am delighted that, following the energetic and effective campaign by my hon. Friend the Member for Sevenoaks (Laura Trott), Kent is one of the most recent places to have a Nightingale court opened.

We heard a little bit of commentary about the state of our justice system prior to the pandemic, and reference was made by several Opposition Members to the outstanding caseload of 39,000 cases prior to the start of a pandemic in the early part of 2020. It was suggested that that level of outstanding cases was shockingly high, but what none of the Opposition Members chose to mention or chose to remember was the fact that in 2010, when the last Labour Government left office, the outstanding caseload in the Crown court was not 39,000, but 47,000—a great deal higher. I am proud that it was a Conservative Government who got that outstanding caseload down by 12,000 compared with our Labour predecessor prior to the onset of the pandemic.

We also heard some commentary about convictions and about the state of the criminal justice system. The most reliable measure of crime is the crime survey; it is the only statistical measure recognised by the Office for National Statistics. The number of crimes recorded by the crime survey back in 2010 was 9.5 million. The most recent figures from a year or so ago show that that has declined by 40%, with the figure down to 5.6 million, so we do not need any lectures about the last 10 years from the Opposition, when crime under this Government has dropped by 40% according to the most reliable measure. Of course we want that to continue, and we are hiring 20,000 more police officers and 400 more prosecutors to make sure that that reduction in crime, as measured by the crime survey, continues.

We heard quite a few moving and important contributions during this afternoon’s debate on the critical issues of violence against women and girls and of rape, and I thank the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Lewisham West and Penge (Ellie Reeves), for her thoughtful speech on this, as well as the many other Members who contributed to this discussion. I would like to start by addressing the question of sentencing for rape, which was raised by the shadow Secretary of State for Justice, the right hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy), in his speech. The maximum sentence for rape is life, and judges are free to sentence up to that level. The right hon. Gentleman asked about the actual sentence lengths that are being handed down. The sentences that are being handed down for adult rape have increased in the past 10 years by two and a half years. They have increased from 79.2 months back in 2010 to 109.4 months more recently. The average sentence for men convicted of this appalling crime has gone up by two and a half years, and quite right too, because it is a despicable and appalling offence.

It is not just the sentence that is important; it is also important how much of that sentence is served in prison. We legislated by statutory instrument about a year ago, and we are legislating again now in the PCSC Bill to ensure that violent criminals, including rapists, get released automatically not after half their sentence, as was the case under the last Labour Government, but after two thirds of their sentence, to ensure not only that sentences are longer but that more of the sentences are spent in prison. That is the right thing to do, and I strongly support those measures.

Many Members have raised the issue of the inappropriately low rate of rape convictions. The Government fully acknowledge that the rape conviction rate is far too low and that action is needed. The hon. Member for Lewisham West and Penge asked some questions about the rape review. I do not want to pre-empt it too much, but my understanding is that it will be published in days rather than weeks. It will comprehensively seek to address the issue of rape convictions. They are too low—there is no two ways about that—and through the rape review, we will work with those on both sides of the House to get the rape conviction rate increased, because that undoubtedly needs to happen.

Many steps have been taken already, but more are needed. I particularly draw the House’s attention to the section 28 rules about evidence. As of last November, all vulnerable witnesses have been able to give pre-recorded evidence at a very early stage in the process, including the cross-examination, in order to deal with exactly the sort of trauma that the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Catherine West) referred to, and to get evidence recorded quickly so that the victim can move on. That has applied to all vulnerable victims as of November last year, and we are now piloting a further three areas where victims who could potentially be intimidated can record their evidence in the same way. That is an extremely important move.

More generally on violence against women and girls, a great deal has been done already, although of course there is more to do. Domestic violence protection orders were prioritised by the courts during the pandemic, and it was this Government that introduced new stalking offences and increased the sentences for them. This Government, with cross-party support, introduced the upskirting offence, did work on female genital mutilation, introduced and passed the Domestic Abuse Act 2021, and introduced the measures on non-fatal strangulation and the rough sex defence—action after action designed to protect women and girls.

However, more is needed and in the coming months, we will publish a refreshed violence against women and girls strategy and a domestic abuse strategy. There will be a review of domestic homicide and, of course, the Law Commission is conducting a review of hate crime, which will include misogyny. There has been progress, but we need to make a great deal more.

Catherine West Portrait Catherine West
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The Minister is being generous in giving way. Will he acknowledge the important work done through private Members’ Bills on those subjects? The way that he expressed it suggests that they were all the ideas of the Tory Government. If I am correct, the hon. Member for Bath (Wera Hobhouse) promoted a private Member’s Bill on upskirting and another Member had a measure on strangulation. Several of the Minister’s recommendations come not from the Government but from private Members’ Bills.

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
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I made it clear that the measures had cross-party support. It is true that some of the ideas originated in private Members’ Bills, and we welcome that. The Government listens across the House and takes action. Therefore, when private Members’ Bills that had merit were introduced, such as some of those we have heard about, for example, the upskirting measure, we embraced them and got them passed. We can all, on both sides of the House—the Members who promoted the private Members’ Bills and the Government for embracing and passing them—be proud of that. As I said, much has been done, but there is much more to do.

I want to deal with one or two specific points. My hon. Friend the Member for South Suffolk (James Cartlidge) made some important points about pet theft. As my right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Chancellor said, a taskforce is taking action on that. My hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner (David Simmonds) mentioned catalytic converter theft, which also plagues Croydon South, and I will take up his suggestion.

I want to pause on the moving and powerful contributions of my hon. Friend the Member for Telford (Lucy Allan), who recounted the appalling constituency case of Georgia, who was so awfully murdered, and of my hon. Friend the Member for South Leicestershire (Alberto Costa), whose constituents, Lynda and Dawn, were murdered by that terrible man, Pitchfork. My hon. Friend the Member for Telford also raised that case. The Government have of course seen the independent Parole Board’s decision of Monday to release that man. Thanks to legislation passed a year or two ago, the Lord Chancellor has the power to review such decisions and to ask the Parole Board to think again. I can confirm that the review of that decision is ongoing and will be concluded before the expiration of the relevant time limit. The Lord Chancellor is acutely aware of the case and is looking at it as we speak. I thank my hon. Friends the Members for Telford and for South Leicestershire for raising the case. I assure them that it is under active consideration.

It is clear that the pandemic has placed unprecedented pressure on our justice system as it has on so many parts of our lives, but we cannot allow the virus to stand in the way of justice. That is why we have taken action: Nightingale courts; £250 million; no limitation on sitting days; 1,600 extra staff; the roll-out of technology, and so many other measures. We will leave no stone unturned in ensuring that our justice system recovers.

Our justice system is the cornerstone of a civilised society. It is fundamental to keeping us and our constituents safe. The Government will do everything necessary to sustain, support and protect our justice system and victims. We have led the world in court recovery. That work will continue.

Question put.

Oral Answers to Questions

Chris Philp Excerpts
Tuesday 18th May 2021

(1 year, 1 month ago)

Commons Chamber
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Luke Evans Portrait Dr Luke Evans (Bosworth) (Con)
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What steps his Department is taking to reduce the backlog of court cases.

Chris Philp Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Chris Philp)
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Prior to coronavirus, outstanding case loads in the Crown court were low by historical standards. However, coronavirus has put huge strain on the court system, in common with so many other public services. The Government have taken decisive action, with 60 Nightingale courtrooms, a quarter of a billion pounds spent on improving the justice system, 290 safe jury trial rooms and 1,600 extra staff. It is thanks to those decisive measures that magistrates court case loads are now 60,000 cases lower than they were at the peak over the summer.

Laura Trott Portrait Laura Trott
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I thank the Minister for his answer and for his previous engagement on the issue of a Nightingale court in Kent. Will he provide an update on when he thinks the court will be established and up and running?

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
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My hon. Friend has been a tireless advocate for a Nightingale court in Kent. My colleague Lord Wolfson is working very actively on that question and I strongly hope we will be in a position to make a positive announcement in the very near future.

Seema Malhotra Portrait Seema Malhotra
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

The employment tribunal backlog stands at a staggering 51,000, which is 45% higher than pre-pandemic levels. The Minister will blame that on covid, but he knows the system was broken before, with cuts made by his Department. Now, as we see multiple employment claims shooting up and some employers using covid as a cover for fire and rehire or cutting people’s employment rights, we have a tribunal system that is unable to cope. Labour warned about this and called for a package of urgent measures. When will the Minister finally step up and take responsibility for the backlog of cases?

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

In common with so many other areas of the justice system employment tribunals were profoundly affected by coronavirus, but we have taken decisive action. The number of employment tribunal sitting days is being increased dramatically, and the tribunal is benefiting from the 1,600 extra staff hired across Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service and from the enormous investment in technology, which is enabling across the court system, including the tribunal, 20,000 remote hearings a week. Those are the actions we are taking to address the issue the hon. Lady raises.

John Spellar Portrait John Spellar
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Minister is being remarkably complacent, because he must know that much of the backlog was actually caused by massive cuts by the Conservative Government. That was a huge error, impacting not only on very serious criminal cases in the Crown court, but on dealing with the petty crime and antisocial behaviour that is blighting our communities. He also knows that cases are taking years to get to court, with the impact that that has on the availability or willingness of witnesses. When he will he stop putting out this complacent line and get a grip of the problem?

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

The right hon. Gentleman talks about the situation prior to coronavirus. The outstanding case load in the Crown court prior to coronavirus was 39,000 cases—low by historical standards and substantially lower than the 47,000 cases left behind by the last Labour Government. Moreover, under this Government, crime, as reported by the crime survey, has dropped by 41%. There is no complacency. A quarter of a billion pounds has been spent, 1,600 extra staff have been hired and 23,000 extra police are being recruited. There is no complacency here.

Luke Evans Portrait Dr Evans [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I asked the House of Commons Library what was going on in the east midlands pre-pandemic. Interestingly, in Bosworth the number of court cases in the backlog has stayed the same. That is partly because there was an 11% rise in Leicester courts, but a 12% fall in Leamington Spa. Clearly, covid has had a massive impact and I pay tribute to the court staff working tirelessly to clear that, but overall there is a mixed picture. What is the Minister’s Department trying to do to tease out what is covid and what is pre-existing, and, most importantly, to share good practice to try to deal with all those cases?

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

I thank my hon. Friend for his question and for his interest, of course, in his constituency and his region. There is a great deal we are doing across the country, including in the east midlands. I mentioned the investment of a quarter of a billion pounds. We are also saying that for Crown court cases there will be no constraint on the number of cases listed. We are encouraging the judiciary the length and breadth of the kingdom, including in the east midlands, to be forward-leaning in listing. We have, of course, already opened the Nightingale court in Nottingham and are planning to open a further Crown court in Loughborough in the late summer, which will accommodate large multi-handers—it will be a supercourt. I hope my hon. Friend will welcome that important step, which will benefit his region.

Alex Cunningham Portrait Alex Cunningham (Stockton North) (Lab)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

Even the Minister’s own MPs accept that there is a crisis in the court system. There are now a record 57,000 outstanding Crown court cases. Lawyers are concerned that they cannot safely see their clients in cells and facilities in many courts are inadequate for the same purpose. The temporary leases on many of the Nightingale courts will come to an end within weeks. Defendants are spending longer than ever in prison and on remand, and some are wrongly feeling pressured to plead guilty rather than face months and maybe years before their cases will be heard. Will the Minister confirm his plans for the future of Nightingale courts, put a stop to the other planned court closures and tell the House just how long is it going to take to clear this backlog?

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
- Hansard - -

I am rather perplexed to hear the shadow Minister talk about planned court closures. There are not any planned court closures and, in fact, as I have said, we have opened up 60 new Nightingale courtrooms and will be looking to continue those as long as they are needed. I already said, in the last answer, that we are planning to open up a new Nightingale court in a number of places in the country, including in Loughborough. The Lord Chancellor has been clear that the judiciary can list at will in the Crown court to encourage the recovery, which we are supporting with money—I have mentioned the quarter of a billion pounds several times already—remote hearings and extra staff. The pandemic has caused enormous difficulties for the court system, as it has for public services. Jury trials and pandemics do not mix very well. We have taken decisive action. That decisive action is delivering results.

Geraint Davies Portrait Geraint Davies (Swansea West) (Lab/Co-op) [V]
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

Will the Minister look to fast-track rape cases by providing DNA testing hubs requiring immediate testing of the accused on request, like breath tests, and confirm that positive tests, alongside a dated audio recording from the victim’s mobile phone saying that they do not consent to sex, would be sufficient to enable immediate imprisonment through fast-track Nightingale courts to massively scale up the number of rapists taken off our streets and put behind bars? Will he meet me to discuss this?

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

The hon. Gentleman is raising an extremely important point. Some of the questions that he is raising, to do with DNA testing and disclosure, are being addressed in the rape review that is due to report very shortly. I know that my hon. Friend the Minister for Crime and Policing would be delighted to meet and discuss some of these—[Interruption.] He is leading this work and he would be delighted to discuss these points; he gave me that undertaking just a moment ago. We are looking to expedite and ease these matters through, for example, the wider use of section 28 pre-recorded evidence, so people can give their evidence more quickly. On prioritising hearing rape cases, the hon. Gentleman is raising a very important point. Listing is a matter for the judiciary, but I know that judges think very carefully about the kind of points that he made when they decide which cases to prioritise.

Edward Leigh Portrait Sir Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) (Con)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

What recent assessment he has made of the potential merits of reforming the Supreme Court.

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Wera Hobhouse Portrait Wera Hobhouse (Bath) (LD)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

What steps he is taking to reduce the length of time taken to grant probate.

Chris Philp Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Chris Philp)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

We have increased resources to handle calls and inquiries relating to probate applications and, as a result, the average time taken to process such an application is running at between four and six weeks. We have also had a big push towards moving the process online—to be digital—and in March more than 75% of grants were done digitally.

Wera Hobhouse Portrait Wera Hobhouse [V]
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

One of my constituents applied for probate and was mistakenly sent the wrong will. This was discovered only after they chased it and they discovered that the case had been closed, with no word from the probate office. When the correct will was sent, it was lost and once again my constituent was not informed. It took nine months for probate to be granted from when they first applied. The loss of a friend and a relative is already an incredibly difficult time. Can the Minister tell me and my constituent what he is going to do to improve communications in the probate office so that nobody has to go through a similar experience?

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

Thankfully, distressing examples such as that are extremely rare. I encourage Members who encounter them to write to us at the Ministry of Justice so that we can make sure they are rapidly resolved. The number of complex cases where there are various queries and difficulties has reduced by two thirds since January—they have gone down from 2,500 to 650. I urge constituents to use the digital system, because for straightforward digital cases we are now issuing probate in one week and, even for stopped cases, where there is a query, it is being done in four weeks. We should all be urging our constituents to use the digital service to make sure this is as fast as possible.

Desmond Swayne Portrait Sir Desmond Swayne (New Forest West) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

What recent discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on enabling UK nationals imprisoned in the US to serve their sentences in the UK.

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Chris Bryant Portrait Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

How many people were prosecuted for assaulting an emergency worker in 2020.

Chris Philp Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Chris Philp)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

In 2019, 11,257 cases were prosecuted for an assault against an emergency worker and in that year 9,066 resulted in conviction and sentencing. As you may know, Mr Speaker, the Government are legislating to double the maximum sentence for an assault on an emergency worker from 12 to 24 months. Just this morning, we had Committee proceedings taking evidence on that and the move was widely welcomed by the police chiefs who gave evidence to our Committee.

Chris Bryant Portrait Chris Bryant
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

It sounds as though that was a very well-written piece of legislation in the first place because it seems to be having an effect. However, we do still have large numbers of emergency workers being assaulted and the Sentencing Council still has not produced new guidelines to insist that magistrates must treat simply spitting as a “proper assault”. Especially in the last year, that has become more important than ever before. May I ask the Minister: how many of the people who have been prosecuted have had sentences longer than six months? That is the key to determining whether lengthening maximum sentences to two years will be effective.

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

I should start by congratulating the hon. Gentleman on the instrumental role that he played in bringing forward the legislation to which I have just referred. On the question of Sentencing Council guidelines, I understand that the Sentencing Council, which is independent of Government, is in the process of looking at the sentencing guidelines. I hope that it will reflect the very strong feelings on both sides of this House about the seriousness of assaulting an emergency worker and that it will bear that in mind when it publishes those revised guidelines. I am afraid I do not have to hand the number of those being sentenced to more than six months; of course many will be. Where the assault is more serious, it will be prosecuted as grievous bodily harm or GBH with intent, which carry much higher maximum sentences. I am happy to write to the hon. Gentleman with those figures if that will assist him.

Ben Everitt Portrait Ben Everitt (Milton Keynes North) (Con)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

What steps his Department is taking to reduce reoffending.

Oral Answers to Questions

Chris Philp Excerpts
Tuesday 16th March 2021

(1 year, 3 months ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Cherilyn Mackrory Portrait Cherilyn Mackrory (Truro and Falmouth) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

What steps he has taken to help tackle the backlog of criminal cases before the courts.

Chris Philp Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Chris Philp)
- Hansard - -

In common with so much of the public sector, and life in general, courts have been profoundly affected by the coronavirus pandemic. The Government have taken decisive action to address this, investing a quarter of a billion pounds in covid recovery, which has paid for, among other things, 40 Nightingale courtrooms, soon to increase to 60 by the end of this month, and installing video technology enabling over 20,000 hearings a week across all jurisdictions to take place. As a result of that, for example, the outstanding caseload in the magistrates courts has dropped by about 50,000 cases over the past eight months.

Cat Smith Portrait Cat Smith
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Three court buildings have now failed safety inspections by the Health and Safety Executive, yet the Government continue to say that courts are covid-secure. What evidence is there to support this claim, and what steps are Ministers going to take to ensure that no more court buildings fail safety inspections?

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
- Hansard - -

We work very closely with Public Health England and follow the guidelines that it gives us. The number of coronavirus cases that have been detected among court users is no higher than among the general population. It is not true to say that there are any more coronavirus cases in courts than anywhere else. That is, in part, because we have invested so much in coronavirus measures like installing plexiglass screens, ensuring there is social distancing, and having overspill rooms so that people can space out when using courts. Where we have tested people in courts, we found extremely low levels of coronavirus cases.

Andrew Jones Portrait Andrew Jones
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am encouraged by the measures my hon. Friend is taking to catch up on the backlog. Will he update me specifically on how many Nightingale courts are now open and in use for Crown court work?

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
- Hansard - -

There are currently, as we speak, 49 Nightingale courtrooms open and available for work. There are five more opening this week, one of which is Croydon, the borough that I have the honour of representing in south London, and by the end of this month we will get up to a total of 60. Many of those courtrooms can be used for Crown court work, but even where they cannot—for example, because they do not have custodial facilities—they are very often able to do work that would otherwise be done in a Crown court centre that is then freed up for work where, for example, custody suites are required. This is making a real contribution and we intend to go further.

Chi Onwurah Portrait Chi Onwurah [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Justice delayed is justice denied. That is no cliché; it is the lived reality for the many, many victims who have not had their day in court during this pandemic. The Minister has said that he expects the number of cases to be brought back to acceptable levels before Easter 2023. Is this really acceptable, and what confidence can victims have that this late date will be met?

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
- Hansard - -

I do agree that timely justice is essential. In the magistrates courts, the outstanding caseload has already come down by about 50,000 cases since last summer, which is very welcome progress. In Crown courts, we are now getting through about 2,000 cases a week, which is about the same as it was before the pandemic. But we do need to go faster: the hon. Lady is right. I think the judiciary eased off listing a little bit in January, February and the early part March owing to the more recent lockdown. Now we are moving out of those restrictions, in phases, our expectation is that listing levels will go up again. We have certainly created the capacity to do that, with 290 jury courtrooms available. As listing levels increase, using the capacity we have created I expect the outstanding caseloads to come down.

Gagan Mohindra Portrait Mr Mohindra [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

This is an issue that is very close to the heart of many of my residents in South West Hertfordshire. How is the Department increasing use of remote hearings to ensure the safety of the people involved during the covid-19 outbreak?

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
- Hansard - -

I thank my hon. Friend for a very prescient question. We have made a huge investment in IT and technology. We have purchased getting on for 10,000 laptops to enable remote working and video working. We have rolled out the cloud video platform on an expedited basis. As a result of that work, more than 20,000 hearings per week across all jurisdictions are now being held remotely. That is orders of magnitude higher than was the case before, and that is why we have managed to keep getting work done across so many parts of the jurisdiction when in many other countries around the world work has considerably slowed down or even stopped.

Christian Matheson Portrait Christian Matheson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

An application for bail to Chester Crown court today will not be listed until February next year. This is not a problem of the pandemic, as there was already a backlog because of court closures and because the Government chose to reduce the number of sitting days at Chester Crown court and others. As my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central (Chi Onwurah) says, how can the Government claim to be the party of law and order when justice is being delayed and justice is being denied?

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
- Hansard - -

The hon. Gentleman talks about sitting days, and the Lord Chancellor has confirmed that there will be no constraint on sitting days at present. The judiciary can list as many cases as they like, and we are anticipating a very considerable increase in sitting days for the next financial year. The hon. Gentleman talks about the justice system prior to the pandemic, and he may be aware that the outstanding Crown court caseload prior to the pandemic was 39,000—considerably lower than 47,000, as it was under the last Labour Administration. He talks about our record on law and order, and he may be aware that the only authoritative source of crime figures, the crime survey, shows a 41% reduction in crime since 2010, from 9.5 million to 5.6 million, so I will certainly be taking no lectures on law and order from the Labour party.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Well, let us see what you can do with the next question. I call Cherilyn Mackrory.

Cherilyn Mackrory Portrait Cherilyn Mackrory [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Will my hon. Friend join me in recognising the efforts made by the police and crime commissioner in Devon and Cornwall, Alison Hernandez, in helping to ensure that our area was the first outside of London to set up virtual remand hearings in police custody during the pandemic? Can he assure me that Devon and Cornwall will continue to receive its fair share of resources and funding to continue dealing with the backlog in criminal cases?

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
- Hansard - -

I pay tribute to police and crime commissioner Alison Hernandez and all those working in Devon and Cornwall and across the country. I congratulate them on being first out of the blocks on video remand hearings. We are continuing to do video remand hearing work, particularly during the recent lockdown, and we have in fact made some funding available to support some forces to do that. I am sure that Devon and Cornwall will be receiving its fair share of support as part of the Government’s commitment to recruit 23,000 extra police officers, underlining our commitment to law and order.

Alex Cunningham Portrait Alex Cunningham (Stockton North) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

As we have already heard, the Crown court backlog has reached nearly 57,000 cases. Many victims of rape and sexual violence face waits of three or four years until their case comes to trial, all the while unable to fully access the therapeutic support they desperately need. It is yet another example of this Government failing to support victims of male violence properly. Will the Minister finally listen to calls from the Victims’ Commissioner and urgently roll-out section 28 measures to all intimidated witnesses, so that victims of these horrific sexual crimes can give evidence as soon as possible, relieving some of the burden of stress and anxiety that they carry as they journey through our criminal justice system?

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
- Hansard - -

I share the shadow Minister’s concern about rape prosecutions. There is a rape review currently under way. It is being worked on by the police Minister and the Lord Chancellor, and will be reporting very shortly. Much of the waits actually relate not to the court system but to the time taken to collect evidence, to disclosure issues and to the time taken to prosecute, which is why we are putting £85 million extra into the Crown Prosecution Service.

The shadow Minister asked about section 28. The application of section 28 has been considerably widened recently, and we want to make that available as widely as we can, as quickly as possible. We also want to support victims. That is why we will be spending £140 million in the next financial year—a significant increase—on supporting victims and witnesses.

Finally, on rape, perhaps the shadow Minister can explain to the country and his constituents why it is that this evening the Labour party will vote against—

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Order. Minister, we need to calm down. [Interruption.] I am not being funny; you are taking advantage of a situation and I do not expect that. [Interruption.] It is no use looking at me in that way. Trying to score points at the end is not the way we need to do it. We need shorter answers to get through the questions as well.

Ben Bradley Portrait Ben Bradley (Mansfield) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

What steps he is taking to ensure the (a) fairness and (b) effectiveness of sentencing policy.

Chris Philp Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Chris Philp)
- Hansard - -

This question is about sentencing, and the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, which is before the House on Second Reading today, will see whole-life orders for premeditated child murder. It will see life sentences imposed for causing death by dangerous driving and causing death by careless driving when under the influence. It will also see longer prison sentences for rapists, which I believe the Labour party plans to vote against.

Ben Bradley Portrait Ben Bradley [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

This month, a Nottinghamshire removal man was convicted of possessing 8,000 indecent images and videos of children ranging from 15 to just one year old, with many classed as category A or extreme child pornography. This man was given a two-year suspended sentence and, as a result, is unlikely ever to see the inside of a prison cell. I welcome proposals to toughen sentencing and be tough on crime, but a sentence like that one seems to be inconsistent with that work. Will my hon. Friend look again at guidance that says that a suspended sentence is the same as a custodial one, because it is pretty clear that in practical terms that is not the case? Will he also ensure that people who commit serious crimes like that, where children have been exploited and abused, are given a punishment that fits the crime?

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
- Hansard - -

Individual sentencing decisions are obviously for the judge who sentences the case, having regard to the facts of that case, but we do take very seriously the kind of offences that my hon. Friend has described. In fact, the maximum penalty for the offence of taking indecent photographs of children is 10 years’ imprisonment. Where an offence is sentenced at a lower level and somebody thinks that that is inappropriate, they can apply under the unduly lenient sentence scheme within 28 days. In 2019, the Government added those kinds of offence to the list of offences eligible under that scheme. If anyone feels that a sentence is too light, I strongly urge them to make an application to the Attorney General under the ULS scheme, and she will then look at that again.

Anne McLaughlin Portrait Anne McLaughlin (Glasgow North East) (SNP) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Reconviction rates in Scotland are at a 21-year low. That is because of the community justice approach of the SNP Government for less serious crimes. Even the Minister has admitted that harsher sentencing has

“limited or no general deterrent effect.”

It is not a competition; all countries can learn from each other. If he truly aspires to reduce reoffending—because that is what keeps people safe—will he at least consider a community justice approach, in the knowledge that it is working in Scotland?

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
- Hansard - -

I understand that Scotland has the highest rate of imprisonment of any country in western Europe, so I find the question slightly surprising. However, we do accept that, particularly for less serious offences, community sentences have a role to play in rehabilitating. That is why we are keen to expedite the roll-out of community sentence treatment requirements, whereby if someone has a mental health problem, a drug addiction problem or an alcohol problem, we treat that as a health problem as an alternative to short custody. That is being rolled out.

Damian Hinds Portrait Damian Hinds (East Hampshire) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

What plans he has to reduce the rate of reoffending.

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Gavin Newlands Portrait Gavin Newlands (Paisley and Renfrewshire North) (SNP)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

What plans he has to amend the Human Rights Act 1998.

Chris Philp Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Chris Philp)
- Hansard - -

The UK has a long-standing tradition of securing human rights. Indeed, the United Kingdom, for many decades and centuries, has been a beacon around the world for the protection of human rights. The operation of the Human Rights Act, now over 20 years old, is being reviewed. The review is being led by Sir Peter Gross, a retired Court of Appeal judge, supported by, among others, two QCs and two professors.

Allan Dorans Portrait Allan Dorans [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The pandemic has seen necessary but drastic restrictions on human rights, including the right to assembly and protest. There are fears that not all of those restrictions will be fully rolled back. The campaign group Liberty has said that the United Kingdom Government’s Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill will undermine protest, stifle dissent and make it harder for us to hold the powerful to account. Does the Minister agree that as the Bill moves through Parliament it should be guided by the principle of the right to peaceful assembly and protest, as fundamental human rights must be protected at all costs?

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
- Hansard - -

I agree that fundamental human rights should be protected at all costs. The Bill we are debating does protect the right to peaceful protest, while at the same time respecting the rights of other people to get to their work and the need of emergency vehicles to secure safe passage down the highway, for example. On human rights, I was concerned by the passage through the Scottish Parliament last week of a law that had a chilling effect on free speech.

Amy Callaghan Portrait Amy Callaghan [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

[Inaudible.]—of the Human Rights Act, in which it is made clear that it would robustly oppose any attempt to undermine the UK’s commitment to the European convention on human rights or distance the UK from membership of the Council of Europe. Does the Minister agree it is crucial that those assurances are given to Scotland and will he be working to ensure that the views of Scotland’s Government are heard and respected?

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
- Hansard - -

Yes, most certainly. There is no plan to repudiate our obligations under the European convention on human rights and there is certainly no plan to leave the Council of Europe, so I can absolutely give the hon. Lady the assurance she asks for. On working closely with the Scottish Government, yes we are doing that and I would like to take this opportunity to thank the Scottish Government for the response to the review’s call for evidence, which I believe has already been received.

Gavin Newlands Portrait Gavin Newlands [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

[Inaudible.]—my hon. Friend the Member for East Dunbartonshire (Amy Callaghan) has just referred to, and both this Government’s desire for power grabs in many other areas of Scottish Parliament competence and the fact that Scotland’s legal system is separate and distinct, does the Minister agree that when published the review should include a commitment that they cannot and must not impinge on the integrity of Scottish law?

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
- Hansard - -

The review is into human rights. As I said, the United Kingdom has been a beacon of human rights for many centuries now and we intend to honour our ECHR obligations. There is no intention to interfere with the Scottish legal system, although I am rather concerned by the remarks Lord Hope made about the apparent problems with the independence of Scotland’s prosecutors.

Mary Kelly Foy Portrait Mary Kelly Foy (City of Durham) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

What assessment he has made of the potential effect on prison safety of the decision to reject the Prison Service Pay Review Body’s recommendation 3.

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Shabana Mahmood Portrait Shabana Mahmood (Birmingham, Ladywood) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

What assessment he has made of the effectiveness of court fine deductions in reclaiming fines for people in receipt of universal credit.

Chris Philp Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Chris Philp)
- Hansard - -

Deductions from benefit orders are made by the court, and when the court makes them, the judge will take into account the affordability and the means of the person who is having the deduction order made. Someone can, of course, make an application later to remit part or all of the deduction, if their personal circumstances have changed.

Shabana Mahmood Portrait Shabana Mahmood [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am grateful to the Minister for that answer, but he will know that the Government have ordered jobcentre staff to apply the maximum 30% deduction from universal credit for claimants who have to pay a court fine, regardless of their circumstances. This approach is failing on two fronts. It pushes vulnerable claimants further into poverty and recoups less money. The Ministry’s own data shows that the amount of money recouped in respect of court fines fell by over 13% between June and August last year, when the arbitrary 30% deduction was applied to all claimants. Does the Minister accept that this is the worst of all worlds, and will he begin urgent discussions with his counterparts in the Department for Work and Pensions to follow the data and allow local decision makers a greater degree of discretion as to how much is deducted from each individual claimant to pay a court fine?

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
- Hansard - -

I ask the House to be aware that these deductions pay not only for fines, but for compensation to victims, and we should be mindful of that. These orders are ultimately made by a judge, who, in making the order, has discretion and will take someone’s circumstances into account. I repeat the point that I made previously: if someone is experiencing difficulty, it is always open to them to go back to the court to have the order remitted, either in part or in whole.

Stuart C McDonald Portrait Stuart C. McDonald (Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East) (SNP)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities.

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Laura Trott Portrait Laura Trott (Sevenoaks) (Con) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Nightingale courts have played a pivotal role in keeping our justice system going throughout the pandemic. May I ask the Minister for an update on when a Nightingale court will be established in Kent? This will be vital to speeding up access to justice for my constituents and helping with the cases at the highest risk of attrition, such as those of sexual violence.

Chris Philp Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Chris Philp)
- Hansard - -

My hon. Friend has been a tireless and energetic advocate for a Nightingale court in Kent, and the options are being studied carefully by officials, who will continue to work with her and her colleagues. We have got 49 courtrooms open for Nightingale courts, and that will shortly increase to 60. On the terrible problem of domestic abuse and violence against women, which she mentions, the Domestic Abuse Bill is, of course, going through Parliament; we will be spending £140 million next year supporting women and victims; and we have been prioritising domestic violence protection orders throughout the pandemic. I look forward to continuing our conversation about that Nightingale court in Kent.

Anne McLaughlin Portrait Anne McLaughlin (Glasgow North East) (SNP) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Will the Cabinet Secretary or a Minister welcome the announcement from the Scottish National party Government that while the UK Government seem intent on rolling back human rights in the UK, Scotland will aim to strengthen them in a truly groundbreaking human rights Bill? That Bill will incorporate four United Nations treaties, to further enhance the rights of women, people with disabilities, older people and minority ethnic communities. Does the Minister agree that independence is the only way for the people of Scotland to truly safeguard their fundamental human rights?

Oral Answers to Questions

Chris Philp Excerpts
Tuesday 2nd February 2021

(1 year, 4 months ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Lilian Greenwood Portrait Lilian Greenwood (Nottingham South) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

What progress he has made on planning for the (a) opening and (b) operation of Nightingale courts.

Chris Philp Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Chris Philp)
- Hansard - -

Coronavirus has had an enormous effect globally and on public services in this country, which is why this year we have invested an extra quarter of a billion pounds to facilitate court recovery. As an important part of that we have already, as of today, opened up 40 additional Nightingale courtrooms, with a further 20 to open by the end of March.

Daniel Zeichner Portrait Daniel Zeichner [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

But there are huge delays in the justice system. Her Majesty’s justice chief inspectors report 53,000 cases waiting to come before Crown courts. In Cambridgeshire, housing associations tell me that when they file papers for community protection notices, they are frequently lost or not even opened. Will the Minister tell me exactly how many Nightingale courts are hearing criminal trials today, and how many will be by the end of 2021?

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
- Hansard - -

In relation to criminal cases, I am pleased to report to the House that since August last year, every single month, relentlessly, the number of disposals in the magistrates court has exceeded receipts, so the outstanding caseload in magistrates courts has been declining relentlessly since August, as the system has recovered. We now have more than 290 effective Crown court jury trials, which is more than we had before the pandemic, and just before Christmas disposals exceeded receipts for the first time during the pandemic. That quarter-of-a-billion-pound investment is working and we are getting the justice system back on its feet following the very substantial and understandable challenges that coronavirus has presented.

Lilian Greenwood Portrait Lilian Greenwood [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Minister already knows that Nottinghamshire’s police and crime commissioner, the chief constable and I are all extremely concerned about the delays in bringing serious criminal cases to trial and the failure to establish a Nightingale court in Nottinghamshire. I look forward to the discussion that he promised last week, but all Members will want to understand why progress is so slow. The Minister talked about 40 courts being open now and 60 by the end of March, but Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service said that 200 would be needed; what is preventing him from addressing that problem? How much investment has the Treasury earmarked for Nightingale courts?

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
- Hansard - -

On the question of investment, I have already said that in the current financial year we have spent an extra quarter of a billion pounds on justice recovery. We are hiring an extra 1,600 HMCTS staff and we have more Crown court jury trial rooms operating than we did before the pandemic. I am, of course, carefully studying the proposals for Nightingale courts in Nottingham and look forward to a conversation with the hon. Member on that topic in the near future.

In terms of speeding up the system, even before coronavirus hit us we had increased expenditure on the Crown Prosecution Service by £85 million a year, hiring an extra 400 prosecutors, and we are on track to hire an extra 20,000 police officers. Our commitment not only to dealing with coronavirus but to speeding up the justice system more generally is clear for all to see.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Chorley is always ready to help the Minister as well.

Robert Neill Portrait Sir Robert Neill (Bromley and Chislehurst) (Con) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The extra investment is important and should be recognised, and Nightingale courts can make an important addition to court capacity, but does my hon. Friend the Minister agree that most Nightingale courts are not equipped to handle custody cases and therefore many of the most serious trials? Is not the long-term solution sustained investment, over a period of months and years, to make sure that all available physical Crown courts sit the maximum number of days that they can safely sit, and to ensure that there are resources in terms of judiciary, support staff and a safe environment for court users, to make sure that that can be done? Is that not the top priority?

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
- Hansard - -

As he is so often, my hon. Friend the Chair of the Justice Committee is correct. Often when a Nightingale court is set up, it does not have the required custody facilities, but it does free up space in our existing Crown court estate, which does have custody facilities, and allow more Crown court or jury trials in which the defendant is remanded to take place in existing facilities.

Crown court sitting days are very important. We have been clear that in the current financial year Crown court sitting days should not impose any constraints on listing and sitting cases. The situation for the coming financial year, starting in April, is the subject of discussions between my right hon. Friend the Lord Chancellor and the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Burnett of Maldon, but it is fair to say that we are expecting a substantial increase in Crown court sitting days.

David Lammy Portrait Mr David Lammy (Tottenham) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Government’s answer to the question about the scale of the crisis in our justice system is that the backlog has been higher in the past, but the Minister knows that this is just a distraction. In 2010, Crown court cases took, on average, 391 days to complete. By 2019, the Government had closed half of the courts and had 27,000 fewer sitting days, meaning that each case took an average of 511 days. A total of 30% fewer cases were completed, but they took 75% longer. Each year that the Minister’s party is in government, justice for victims is further delayed. How can he be so complacent, announcing just 40 extra rooms? We have 20 Nightingale courts and the head of Her Majesty’s Courts Service said that we needed 200. When are we going to get them?

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
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A range of other measures are being used, not least the roll-out of the cloud video platform, which led last week to more than 20,000 remote hearings across all jurisdictions, and, as I have said, 290 jury court rooms, which is more than we had before. The right hon. Gentleman asked about the past, but he rather conveniently skated over the fact that the outstanding caseload in the Crown court before the pandemic in 2020 was 39,000, whereas in 2010, under the last Labour Government, it was 47,000. He asked about the number of cases and the number of cases being disposed of, but he neglected to mention that crime, according to the crime survey—the only Office for National Statistics-certified source of statistics—had fallen from 9.5 million cases in 2010 to 5.6 million in 2020 under a Conservative Government delivering reductions in crime. I notice that, last week, the shadow Justice Secretary talked about wartime juries of seven. I also noticed that, in June of last year, writing in The Guardian newspaper—

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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Order. Minister, I think you could have saved a little bit for later. It is a very full answer, but I now need to make progress.

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Barry Sheerman Portrait Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op)
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What steps he is taking to tackle the backlog of court cases as a result of the covid-19 outbreak.

Chris Philp Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Chris Philp)
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The covid pandemic has had an enormous effect on public services, including the court system, but we have risen to that challenge, investing a total this year, as I said earlier, of an extra quarter of a billion pounds in court recovery. That has included installing 450 plexiglass screens in courtrooms to facilitate covid-safe hearings and installing the cloud video platform in 150 magistrates courts and 70 Crown courts to enable remote hearings, which last week delivered a record in excess of 20,000 remote hearings across all jurisdictions. We are not resting. There is more work to do and this Government will take whatever action is required to ensure justice is delivered.

Craig Williams Portrait Craig Williams [V]
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I thank my hon. Friend for that answer, and I welcome the establishment of the 40 Nightingale courtrooms and the rapid increase in the use of video technology, but may I reinforce a point and ask him to confirm the importance of prioritising urgent cases to protect the public during this extremely difficult time?

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
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My hon. Friend is right to raise the prioritisation of urgent cases. Listing is a judicial function and is a matter for judges, but I know that judges do prioritise the most urgent cases. For example, right from the beginning of the pandemic, domestic violence protection orders were one of those matters that were most prioritised. I hope I can also reassure my hon. Friend by saying that for those most serious Crown court cases where the prisoner was remanded in custody, well over half that had their first hearing in November will have had their substantive trial by July this year.

Alex Davies-Jones Portrait Alex Davies-Jones [V]
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The Minister will I hope be aware that in the year ending March 2020, an astonishing 99% of rapes reported to the police in England and Wales resulted in no legal proceedings against the alleged perpetrators, and even the 1% of victims whose cases do proceed to the courts have to wait years for justice. What concrete steps is the Secretary of State taking to speed up the process and to address this appalling situation?

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
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The hon. Lady is right to draw the House’s attention to this very serious problem, which most certainly does need to be sorted out. Some steps have been taken already, such as the roll-out of section 28 video-recorded evidence to help the most vulnerable witnesses, where that would be of assistance. Changes have also been made to disclosure rules very recently, which often pose obstacles in these kinds of cases. In fact, only yesterday the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Alex Chalk) and the Lord Chancellor announced an additional £40 million to help victims, including victims of these terrible crimes, but it is fair to say that a great deal more needs to be done, as the hon. Lady rightly references. There is a cross-Government, cross-criminal justice system rape review currently being undertaken, led by the Minister for Crime and Policing. That will be reporting very shortly and will have further concrete actions in this very important area.

Peter Aldous Portrait Peter Aldous [V]
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I am most grateful to my hon. Friend for those earlier answers. The additional funding that Suffolk constabulary has received for victims’ services is extremely welcome, as many victims of the most horrific violent and sexual offences are, along with their families, in urgent need of additional support at a time when the period between charging and the commencement of a trial can now be between a year and 18 months. That delay is causing great distress, so to reduce the backlog of cases, will my hon. Friend provide more court staff and a Nightingale court in Suffolk to increase capacity in Crown courts?

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
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I can most certainly offer my hon. Friend an assurance about the additional staff. We are in the process of hiring an extra 1,600 HMCTS staff. As I mentioned to the Justice Committee Chairman, my hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Sir Robert Neill) earlier, we are also expecting a significant increase in Crown court sitting days in the next financial year. More money is being invested in the Crown Prosecution Service, which of course brings these prosecutions, with an extra £85 million a year to hire 400 more prosecutors. The purpose of all those measures is to speed up the system in the way that my hon. Friend has rightly just requested. I would be very happy to study proposals for a Nightingale court in East Anglia. Perhaps we could discuss that after this session to see what ideas he has.

Jane Hunt Portrait Jane Hunt [V]
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My constituent owns a construction firm. He completed a significant project before the first lockdown, but his customer has not yet paid. He understands from his solicitor that it is impossible to submit a request for a winding-up order through the courts at present, even in cases where the temporary restrictions on them do not apply. If that is the case, what steps are the Government taking to ensure that businesses can request winding-up orders when required while covid restrictions are in place?

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
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It is important that people to whom debts are owed can enforce those debts and get judgment; it is the foundation upon which commercial transactions are built. I am not sure that I entirely recognise the situation to which my hon. Friend refers. Perhaps we can correspond after today’s session, and I would be happy to look into the particulars of the case that she references and see whether I can assist in any way.

Rachael Maskell Portrait Rachael Maskell [V]
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My constituent reported her case of historical sexual abuse four years ago. The trial is listed for mid-2022, but with court delays, there is no certainty. Meanwhile, this traumatised victim cannot access therapy, as it might jeopardise the conduct of the trial. She is seriously unwell. What equality impact assessment has the Minister undertaken on the impact of court delays on victims of sexual and domestic crime, and will he look to expedite those cases?

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
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I recognise the considerations that the hon. Lady raises. I know that when judges make listing decisions, they carefully take into account the sort of considerations that she rightly outlined. Of course, many of the delays in bringing these cases predate coming to trial; they might be related to issues to do with disclosure or the time it takes to investigate and then assemble the case. We hope that many of those issues can be addressed via the rape review, in addition to the work that is being done on disclosure rules, and the extra money going into the CPS will help. As I said, we recognise that there is a problem in this area, which the rape review and the other measures aim to address, because delays do not serve the interests of justice; they cause distress for victims, as the hon. Lady rightly says. That is one of the reasons we have invested so much extra money in supporting victims, but I agree that delivering speedy justice in this area is critical.

Barry Sheerman Portrait Mr Sheerman [V]
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From all the evidence in Yorkshire and the north-east from judges, retired judges and senior barristers, I get the feeling that there are serious problems. Is it not the case that the Government are using covid as a fig leaf for the fact that our justice system was in terminal crisis before covid, and we must have a renewal of our justice system and investment in it? When are we going to see the royal commission on criminal justice up and working?

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
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I am afraid that I do not recognise the hon. Gentleman’s characterisation of the justice system prior to coronavirus. Waiting times in the magistrates court prior to coronavirus were about eight weeks, which is an entirely respectable figure. The outstanding case load in the Crown court prior to coronavirus—39,000—was quite low by historical standards and significantly lower than the 47,000 it was when Labour left office in 2010. Moreover, the HMCTS budget in 2020 was higher by some £200 million that it was in 2010. There is, of course, a great deal more that we need to do. A lot of money is being invested this year, and more money will be invested in the future. My right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Chancellor is working at pace on the royal commission on criminal justice, and we are expecting announcements in due course.

Peter Kyle Portrait Peter Kyle (Hove) (Lab)
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It was revealed in a coroner’s court last week that in August 2019, an 18-year-old woman who was a victim of sexual assault was told that she would not get her day in court for 19 months. The day after, she lost her life to an overdose. The coroner said that the two events were linked. This was six months before covid landed on our shores. It is not covid that broke our system of justice—it is this Government who did it. Will the Minister offer an apology to that young woman’s family and to every single victim of assault and every single victim of crime in this country who is waiting month after month after month for justice?

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
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I have already pointed out that our justice system prior to coronavirus was in good shape, with magistrates court waiting times, as I said in response to the last question, at about eight weeks and a Crown court outstanding case load that was low by historical standards, but we do recognise the distress that witnesses and victims in particular suffer. That is why, only yesterday, the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Alex Chalk), and the Lord Chancellor announced an additional £40 million to support victims—that is extra money on top of additional money already—because we recognise the importance of victims in this system. A rape review is under way to make sure that these cases are brought to court as quickly as they can be, because we do recognise that they are taking too long. However, that is not just a courts issue; it is to do with disclosure rules, putting a case together and properly investigating these cases. Of course, the extra 20,000 police officers will help. Victims are at the forefront of our mind, and we will do everything we can to look after and protect them.

Virendra Sharma Portrait Mr Virendra Sharma (Ealing, Southall) (Lab)
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What assessment he has made of the implications for his Department’s policies of (a) evictions and (b) other enforcement activity conducted by bailiff organisations during the covid-19 outbreak.

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Chris Philp Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Chris Philp)
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We take covid safety very seriously, and as I said earlier, we have invested £0.25 billion in making our courts covid-safe this year. That has involved the buildings and other measures that include plexiglass screens, nightingale courts, social distancing, and an enhanced cleaning regime. We work closely, of course, with Public Health England to ensure that our courts are covid-safe.

Lloyd Russell-Moyle Portrait Lloyd Russell-Moyle [V]
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Solicitors in my constituency, particularly those who may be vulnerable, have contacted me to say that they are frightened to attend court due to the lack of safety provisions. That has led to some of them refusing to take on new cases, and resulted in defendants not having the levels of representation to which they are entitled, and further backlogs. Those solicitors have a simple request: that the Court Service resumes video remand hearings, such as those in place at the peak of the first lockdown, so that we can get through the backlog and they can conduct their work from home if possible, which is the Government’s national advice.

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
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The Lord Chief Justice rightly gave a direction in January at the beginning of this lockdown that every case that can be heard remotely should be, for all the reasons mentioned by the hon. Gentleman. Video remand hearings have been recommenced as much as possible, and they are used a lot more now than they were in December, for example. I reassure the hon. Gentleman’s constituents that Public Health England says that our court estate is safe, and incidents of covid among Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunal Service staff are no higher or lower than in the general population. I hope that gives his constituents confidence to continue their work in person where that is absolutely necessary.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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The connection to the hon. Member for Stockport (Navendu Mishra) who has the next question has failed so we will go straight to the shadow Minister.

Alex Cunningham Portrait Alex Cunningham (Stockton North) (Lab)
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Labour Members share the horror of the legal profession at the fact that the already huge court backlog has increased by 35% since the start of the pandemic, and now includes more than 53,000 Crown Court cases. Lawyers want to keep the justice system open and moving, but it is wrong to ask them to pay for years of Tory cuts by putting their health and safety at risk. Like everyone else they are anxious, and given the hundreds of covid cases across the court estate, as revealed in answers to my parliamentary questions, we should not be surprised. More than 100 new cases were reported in just eight days in January alone. Sadly, we hear that precautions vary considerably across the country, so what new measures will the Minister take in the estate to ensure that all courts operate best practice, and provide those who use them with a guarantee that they will be safe?

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
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We have already invested, as I have said repeatedly this morning, a quarter of a billion pounds in total this financial year to make our court estate covid-safe. That is why we have managed to keep the court system operating in the month of January and beyond in a way that was very difficult back in March and April last year. Public Health English is regularly consulted.

On the covid cases the hon. Gentleman mentions, there are tens of thousands of people passing through our court system every day, and the number of covid cases reported among HMCTS staff is in line with what we would expect in the general population. Indeed, those cases are now going down. Best practice is being adopted. Our courts are safe. Of course, where hearings can be done remotely they should be, as we are doing here in Parliament, and that is why we had over 20,000 remote hearings across all jurisdictions last week, but where hearings have to be done in person courts are safe to hear them.

Duncan Baker Portrait Duncan Baker  (North Norfolk) (Con)
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If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities.

Oral Answers to Questions

Chris Philp Excerpts
Tuesday 8th December 2020

(1 year, 6 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Laura Trott Portrait Laura Trott (Sevenoaks) (Con)
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What steps his Department is taking to reduce the backlog of court cases that has accumulated as a result of the covid-19 outbreak.

Chris Philp Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Chris Philp)
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Justice systems around the world have been profoundly affected by the coronavirus pandemic, but I am pleased that the court system in England and Wales has been among the world’s leaders in recovering from that pandemic. Magistrates court disposals are now exceeding receipts, and 260 Crown Court jury rooms are operating—more than we had before the pandemic. Substantial additional resources, both people and money, have been put into the system, to ensure that our recovery continues to be world-leading.

Jeff Smith Portrait Jeff Smith
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The Lowry theatre in Salford is being used as a nightingale court, which I think is a good idea and model because it brings income to a venue that has been hit hard by the crisis. However, it is one of only 16 courts that were up and running by the end of November, and the chief executive of the Courts Service has said that we need 200 to clear the backlog. What number does the Minister think we now need to clear the backlog?

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
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As the hon. Gentleman says, 16 nightingale courts are up and running, and the Ministry of Justice has secured a total of just over £110 million in additional funding from the Treasury, to support not just those nightingale courts, but many others as well. We intend to open further nightingale courts in the future. I am glad that the hon. Gentleman welcomes the use of the Lowry theatre—we all do—and as I said, up to 260 Crown Court jury rooms are now open and operational, which is more than we had before the pandemic.

Seema Malhotra Portrait Seema Malhotra
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The backlog for individual cases in employment tribunals has already passed the post-2008 financial crisis record, with 37,000 workers in the queue. Analysis by Citizens Advice suggests that if that continues to grow at the current rate, the number of outstanding claims could pass 500,000 by spring. When will the Minister take action at the scale necessary, and stop the Chancellor’s jobs crisis becoming a justice crisis, by targeting much needed support to employment tribunals?

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
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As I said, we are putting a great deal of extra resources into the justice system, including employment tribunals, to ensure that we recover from coronavirus. There is £110 million in total extra this year, and a further 1,600 staff of Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service across the entire system. The hon. Lady mentions employment tribunals, and I am pleased to report to the House that since the beginning of October, disposal rates in the employment tribunals have been running at 740 a week. That is higher than the level of disposals pre-pandemic, which was 718 a week. We hope and expect that that recovery will continue.

Laura Trott Portrait Laura Trott
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There has been a welcome focus from the Department on domestic violence and sexual assault cases, including the landmark recent Domestic Abuse Bill. We know that a delay in bringing those types of cases to court can lead to a significant increase in attrition rates, and therefore convictions. Will Ministers focus particularly on bringing those types of cases to court quickly, and will they meet me and the Kent police and crime commissioner, Matthew Scott, to discuss what more we can do?

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
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My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to that important area, and it is certainly a matter that Ministers are mindful of and focused on. The judiciary decided early on in the pandemic to prioritise domestic violence protection orders, so that even when much of the court system had stopped functioning in the immediate aftermath of the first lockdown, DVPOs continued. As judges consider which cases to list, they are mindful of my hon. Friend’s point about protecting vulnerable witnesses and victims. In addition, we have committed £28 million extra to support domestic abuse services, and we have provided £800,000 to the finding legal options for women survivors project, which provides free legal support to victims—my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Alex Chalk) has been leading on that work. I would be delighted to meet my hon. Friend and the Kent police and crime commissioner, Matthew Scott, who is doing a fantastic job for the people of Kent, and I look forward to that meeting happening in the near future.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I am sure there must be a link to the question there somewhere.

Alex Cunningham Portrait Alex Cunningham (Stockton North) (Lab)
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The Lord Chancellor was keen to talk up his court successes in his statement on Thursday, yet the situation remains dire in many parts of his Department, according to answers to my written questions. The number of effective trials was down from 19,000 in 2010 to 12,000 last year, and that was before covid; expenditure on recorder sitting days has halved from £19 million to less than £10 million since 2018; and disposals in care proceedings within the legally required 26 weeks have collapsed to just 34%. This is about people’s lives, so will the Minister outline when victims, witnesses and families will get the court system they desperately need and justice will be properly served?

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
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The shadow Minister makes reference to a reduction of trial numbers last year. Of course, that is because crime is significantly down since 2010, when Labour left office. If there are fewer crimes being committed, there will be fewer trials in consequence; that is a symptom of success. The outstanding case load in 2019 was in fact at a 10-year low.

As I have said already, we are fully committed to making sure that the justice system recovers from the pandemic. That is why we have more Crown court jury trial rooms open now than we did before the pandemic, we are consulting on having extended operating hours to allow more cases to be heard, we have put £110 million of extra money in, we have recruited 1,600 extra staff—[Interruption.] It is working, as evidenced by the fact that there are more magistrates court trials now than there were before the pandemic and disposals are exceeding receipts. We will continue this work and make sure that the recovery in this jurisdiction continues to lead the world.

Damian Collins Portrait Damian Collins (Folkestone and Hythe) (Con)
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What discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on bringing forward legislative proposals to strengthen sentencing to tackle homophobia in football.

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Sally-Ann Hart Portrait Sally-Ann Hart (Hastings and Rye) (Con)
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What steps the Government are taking to increase the use of community sentence treatment requirements.

Chris Philp Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Chris Philp)
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My hon. Friend is right to raise community sentence treatment requirements as an important area to push, expand and develop. The Government firmly believe that, where someone has mental health problems, or drug or alcohol addiction causing the offending behaviour, treating the causes of the offending is very often a much better sentence than a short custodial term in terms of rehabilitation and reducing reoffending. So we certainly intend to expand the roll-out of these. They operate already in 14 areas and we intend to make sure that half the country is covered for mental health treatment through CSTRs by 2023-24. We are looking at other ways in which we can speed up the roll-out even further.

Sally-Ann Hart Portrait Sally-Ann Hart
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The new probation system is set to be in place in the next few months, with unpaid work and key programmes to stop criminals reoffending to be delivered by Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service from next June. Seetec has recently been awarded a Ministry of Justice contract for a co-financing organisation activity hub in the south-east region, to deliver support to help offenders reintegrate back into society. The hub will be based in Chatham, with a satellite provision in my constituency at St Leonards-on-Sea. Can my hon. Friend confirm that there is still a role for the private sector in offender rehabilitation, even if not by community rehabilitation companies?

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
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My hon. Friend asks a good question. CRCs are being transitioned out and the probation service will take over organising this activity, but within that there will be opportunities for private sector, or indeed charitable sector, organisations to bid to provide certain kinds of activity and certain kinds of rehabilitation work via the dynamic framework. We envisage eventually spending about £100 million a year on procuring these services via the dynamic framework. Any organisation, such as the one she mentions, that has something to offer and can help with rehabilitation is, of course, strongly encouraged to bid for those services to make sure we are drawing on the full range of available services as we try to rehabilitate offenders and build a better life for their future and protect our constituents as well.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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We are not going to Greater Manchester, as we have him here—welcome, Andrew Gwynne.

Oral Answers to Questions

Chris Philp Excerpts
Tuesday 3rd November 2020

(1 year, 7 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Edward Timpson Portrait Edward Timpson (Eddisbury) (Con)
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What plans he has to raise the mandatory retirement age for magistrates.

Chris Philp Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Chris Philp)
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The Ministry of Justice has been running a consultation on increasing the retirement age for judges and magistrates. The consultation closed on 16 October. Over 1,000 responses were received and we will respond formally very shortly.

Edward Timpson Portrait Edward Timpson
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My hon. Friend is very aware of my private Member’s Bill to raise the retirement age of magistrates to 75, which has been bumbling along the bottom of the Friday Order Paper for a couple of months now. Bearing in mind that his own consultation on this increasingly urgent matter closed over two weeks ago, is he able to give me and many hundreds of magistrates, who have been forced to give up dispensing justice at a time when we can least afford to lose them, some hope that he will be able to legislate at the earliest opportunity, either through my Bill or through other means, so we can get that on the statute book as soon as we can?

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
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My hon. Friend is quite right. We are losing something like 1,000 magistrates a year as they turn 70, often very experienced magistrates who still have a great deal to offer the justice system. The consultation had two options: raising the age to 72 or to 75. I strongly commend my hon. Friend for his patience, persistence and perseverance in trying to get his private Member’s Bill through, often in the face of somewhat unfortunate headwinds, on private Members’ Bill Fridays. This is an urgent issue. As soon as we have formulated a response to the consultation, we will certainly be looking to legislate via whatever vehicle is available as quickly as we possibly can.

Alison Thewliss Portrait Alison Thewliss (Glasgow Central) (SNP)
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What discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on upholding the rule of law.

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Nick Smith Portrait Nick Smith (Blaenau Gwent) (Lab)
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What assessment he has made of the effect of the Government’s three-tier local covid-19 alert levels on the operation of the courts.

Chris Philp Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Chris Philp)
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We have made a very careful assessment of the safety of all our court buildings. I am pleased to say that courts across the country are opening and operating regardless of the tier they may have been in previously and regardless of the altered circumstances that are commencing on Thursday. The courts are open, they are operating, and justice is being done.

Nick Smith Portrait Nick Smith
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

In firebreak Wales, the justice system has had to operate under really difficult circumstances lately, and I pay credit to those who have worked so hard to adapt. However, figures shared with me by the chief constable in Gwent point to significant delays in first hearings and a 57% increase in witnesses being supported locally. To help deal with this, will the Government prioritise hearings for the most serious crimes before they get lost in another backlog?

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
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I share the hon. Gentleman’s thanks to HMCTS staff and the judiciary and magistrates who have been keeping our courts running in what have been difficult circumstances. The cases that are prioritised are decided by the judges, who take responsibility for listing. However, cases such as domestic violence protection orders, which are often very urgent, are certainly being prioritised, and the most serious cases, particularly where there are vulnerable victims—we have heard about rape cases already this morning—are being listed at the earliest possible opportunity.

As the Under-Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Alex Chalk), said, in the magistrates court we are now disposing of more cases than are being received. That has been the case since the end of July, so the outstanding caseload is coming down. As for Crown court jury trials, we now have more Crown court courtrooms for jury trials open and operating than was the case before the pandemic, so we are expecting similarly encouraging progress to start feeding through with regard to those trials as well.

Alex Cunningham Portrait Alex Cunningham (Stockton North) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

In recent times we have seen outbreaks of covid in different courts around the country, despite the claims and answers to my parliamentary questions that everything possible is being done to keep them safe. The Government have been found out and hit with fines by the Health and Safety Executive for what can only be described as a catalogue of failures at Westminster magistrates court, including risk assessment found not to be suitable and sufficient. Then there were issues with social distancing, staff training and management arrangements. Can the Minister put his hand on his heart and honestly say that other courts would not fail the HSE test, and will he agree that it is now time to work with staff representatives to put things right, and carry out the national risk assessment demanded today by the Criminal Bar Association?

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
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A huge amount of work has happened over the past six months to risk-assess different courts, working with Public Health England and Public Health Wales, and talking to union representatives as well. That is how we have got almost every court in the country now up and running in a socially distanced way. For example, we have installed perspex screens to make sure that jurors are separated from one another, and we are making sure that there are jury retiring rooms where jurors can space out. There is extremely frequent cleaning happening throughout every courtroom. What is important is that justice is done, justice is delivered, and it is done safely, and that is precisely what is now happening.

Ellie Reeves Portrait Ellie Reeves (Lewisham West and Penge) (Lab)
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What progress he has made on the implementation of the female offender strategy.

Oral Answers to Questions

Chris Philp Excerpts
Tuesday 22nd September 2020

(1 year, 9 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Gareth Thomas Portrait Gareth Thomas (Harrow West) (Lab/Co-op)
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What assessment he has made of the effect of the backlog of cases in HM Courts and Tribunals Service on access to justice.

Chris Philp Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Chris Philp)
- Hansard - -

I am delighted to report to the House that the recovery of our court system following the coronavirus pandemic is very well under way. The magistrates court is recovering strongly. Disposals last week exceeded 21,000, which is more than the number of receipts, and therefore the outstanding caseload went down, as it has gone down for each of the past five weeks. In relation to the Crown court, the recovery of jury trials continues strongly, and last week over 100 were held.

Stephanie Peacock Portrait Stephanie Peacock
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The majority of court cases have been moved from Barnsley and are taking place in Sheffield, increasing the likelihood of losing witnesses and, in some cases, victims. Prosecutions are already at record lows thanks to this Government’s record on law and order. Does the Minister accept that drastic measures need to be taken to reduce the backlog of cases and increase access to justice?

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
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Drastic measures are being taken. We have recently invested £153 million to improve court buildings. We have just invested, in the past few weeks, an extra £80 million to support criminal courts, including the recruitment of 1,600 extra HMCTS staff. In addition to that, we have opened 10 emergency Nightingale courts with 16 courtrooms, and a further eight such Nightingale courts with 13 courtrooms will be opened in the course of September and October. The steps that that hon. Lady is calling for have been and are being taken.

Kerry McCarthy Portrait Kerry McCarthy
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From next week, the maximum period that someone can spend in pre-trial custody for Crown court cases will be increased to 238 days. I am particularly concerned that this includes children, as well as adults, on remand. At the moment in the prison estate, there is a higher proportion of children on remand among children in custody than there has been for a decade. What can we do to make sure that juveniles, in particular, get a speedy hearing and do not spend so much time in custody when they may very well be innocent?

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
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The hon. Lady is quite right to draw attention to custody time limits. Of course we want to get cases heard as quickly as possible because people on remand may well be found not guilty subsequently. I do agree with her sentiments about children. I know that when judges look at listing cases, they are very mindful of that. By the end of October, we will have 250 Crown court jury trial rooms operating, which will enable us to really get through these cases as quickly as we possibly can.

Gareth Thomas Portrait Gareth Thomas
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Shopworkers have faced rising violence in recent years, and yet too often the perpetrators are not being brought to justice, partly, at the moment, because of lengthy backlogs in court hearings. Industry experts, business and trade unions are all calling for greater legal protection for shopworkers and for more investment in the court system. When are Ministers going to listen?

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
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Ministers have listened. I have already explained that we have just announced an extra £80 million to support court recovery, on top of the £153 million to improve the court estate just a short time ago. As regards sentencing, the hon. Member will, I am sure, welcome the sentencing White Paper published last week, which imposes tougher penalties on serious offenders and keeps them in prison for longer. He mentions outstanding caseloads. I would remind him that the outstanding caseload in the Crown court, even with coronavirus, is lower today than it was in 2010, so we have managed to run the court system more effectively with coronavirus than the last Labour Government did without it.

Alex Cunningham Portrait Alex Cunningham (Stockton North) (Lab)
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The Minister outlines a different picture from that outlined by the Bar Council, which I met last week. It told me that covid-compliant courts throughout the country are running under capacity. Even after yesterday’s announcement, only a handful of the promised 200 Nightingale courts are in place. Magistrate numbers have halved since 2012, and there is a huge shortage of judges. Court listings are in chaos, with trial dates being set way into 2022. To top it all off, HMCTS is the only Government agency for which there is still no covid risk-assessment template agreed with PCS. The Lord Chancellor said he was looking forward to the spending review with relish; I sincerely hope that means that proper funding is on the way. When can we expect this mess to be sorted out and the buckling court system fixed, so that it can deliver for those it serves and employs?

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
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I have already pointed out that the Crown court case load is lower today than it was in 2010 under the Labour Government. I have also pointed out that the magistrates courts, to which the hon. Gentleman referred, are disposing of more cases now than they are receiving: the backlog, or the case load, is going down and has been for each and every one of the past five weeks. The hon. Gentleman mentions custody and the time until hearings; in August, 84% of Crown court cases for which the defendant was in custody were listed for trial before February next year. We are working at pace and investing at pace. The recovery of our criminal justice system after this coronavirus epidemic is well and truly under way.

Grahame Morris Portrait Grahame Morris (Easington) (Lab)
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What comparative assessment he has made of levels of (a) violence and (b) staffing in (i) public and (ii) private prisons.

Oral Answers to Questions

Chris Philp Excerpts
Tuesday 14th July 2020

(1 year, 11 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Andrew Lewer Portrait Andrew Lewer (Northampton South) (Con)
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What steps his Department is taking to increase the length of prison sentences for terror offences.

Chris Philp Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Chris Philp)
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Protecting our fellow citizens is our most important duty. The Government legislated in February, via the Terrorist Offenders (Restriction of Early Release) Act 2020, to make sure that terrorist offenders no longer get automatically released at the halfway point; instead, they become eligible for parole-board release at the two-thirds point. Via the Counter-Terrorism and Sentencing Bill, which comes back for Report and Third Reading next week, we are introducing mandatory 14-year minimum prison sentences for the most serious terrorist offenders and ensuring that other serious offenders serve all their sentence in prison. By doing that, we protect our fellow citizens.

Andrew Lewer Portrait Andrew Lewer
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Does my hon. Friend agree that the limited use of terrorism prevention and investigation measures, as amended by the Counter-Terrorism and Sentencing Bill that will come back for Report next week, will serve to help to keep my constituents in Northampton South and those elsewhere safe from terror attacks?

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
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In Committee, we heard extremely compelling evidence from Assistant Chief Constable Tim Jacques, who is one of the national policing leads on counter-terrorism. He explained how, in his professional experience and that of the security services, the changes that we are making to TPIMs will make our constituents and our fellow citizens safer. I hope that Members will pay close attention to the evidence that Assistant Chief Constable Jacques gave when they consider the Bill on Report next week.

Taiwo Owatemi Portrait Taiwo Owatemi (Coventry North West) (Lab)
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What plans he has to improve links between probation services and (a) local employers, (b) adult education colleges, (c) health authorities and (d) jobcentres.