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Written Question
HM Courts and Tribunals Service: ICT
6 Jan 2022

Questioner: Alex Cunningham (LAB - Stockton North)

Question

To ask the Secretary of State for Justice, what assessment he has made of the effect of the Common Platform roll-out on staff (a) workload, (b) stress levels, and (c) morale.

Answered by James Cartlidge

HMCTS has embarked upon a transformative change agenda, with a view to modernise and improve the outcomes significantly for the users who rely on courts/tribunals, and to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the system. Insofar as workload is concerned, the point of the system is to automate more, and make staff (and professional partner/user) lives easier, providing a more efficient and consistent service.

For stress and morale, the implementation of change always needs to be effectively managed. We are committed with supporting our workforce through this process, our longstanding daily team meetings across our courts provides a manager with a temperature check on how teams are feeling about change. Where stress indictors are apparent, a member of staff or their line manager will use an individual stress risk assessment to discuss, define and mitigate stress. Alongside that, our annual staff survey provides us with a real understanding of the impact change has on our staff.


Written Question
Alternatives to Prison: Females
21 Dec 2021

Questioner: Kim Johnson (LAB - Liverpool, Riverside)

Question

To ask the Secretary of State for Justice, what recent assessment he has made of the potential merits of community sentences for female offenders as an alternative to short custodial prison sentences.

Answered by Victoria Atkins

Sentencing is a matter for the judiciary in individual cases. In line with the Government’s Female Offender Strategy, we want fewer women serving short sentences and more managed effectively in the community successfully. Community sentences offer the opportunity to support women to address the underlying causes of offending behaviour, and to secure and maintain stable accommodation. In addition, disruption to families is significantly less, reducing the risk of intergenerational offending.

To support community provision, in May 2021 we announced £46 million probation funding over three years for services for women coming out of prison or serving community sentences and have invested £9.5m in the women’s community sector since 2018. We also have several initiatives underway that are looking to encourage use of robust community sentences as an alternative to custody for women, including Problem Solving Courts, Community Sentence Treatment Requirements, Electronic Monitoring and a Pre-Sentence Report pilot.


Written Question
HM Courts and Tribunals Service: ICT
16 Dec 2021

Questioner: Alex Cunningham (LAB - Stockton North)

Question

To ask the Secretary of State for Justice, what (a) cost-benefit analysis, (b) organisational risk assessment, and (c) equality impact assessment for users has been made in relation to the Common Platform.

Answered by James Cartlidge

A full cost benefit analysis of Common Platform was undertaken as a component part of the wider portfolio of investment in courts’ transformation. This analysis fully conformed to the Treasury’s “Green Book” - which provides detailed guidance in Chapter 6. Treasury guidance was followed and the portfolio level cost benefit analysis was subject to scrutiny and validation by the Government Major Projects Portfolio in February 2021 and approved, having met the required standard of a robust assessment of the costs and benefits.

HMCTS have undertaken a number of assessments for the Common Platform case management system. These were undertaken in 2020 and are currently being reviewed.

The health, safety and wellbeing of all HMCTS colleagues is taken extremely seriously. For our Common Platform programme, we have assessed risk throughout, and continue to keep it under review. At an organisational level, that assessment has been documented through a Change Impact Assessment, Public Sector Equality Analysis and a Workforce Equality Analysis, which remain under regular review. At a local/site level, risk assessments for particular areas of risk are documented using standard organisational templates where required. This meets the obligations we hold and satisfies us that risks are suitably and sufficiently managed.


Written Question
HM Courts and Tribunals Service
10 Dec 2021

Questioner: Kate Hollern (LAB - Blackburn)

Question

To ask the Secretary of State for Justice, what organisational risk assessments HM Courts and Tribunal Service has made of the Common Platform.

Answered by James Cartlidge

The health, safety and wellbeing of all HMCTS colleagues is taken extremely seriously. For our Common Platform programme, we have assessed risk throughout, and continue to keep it under review. At an organisational level, that assessment has been documented through a Change Impact Assessment, Public Sector Equality Analysis and a Workforce Equality Analysis, which remain under regular review. At a local/site level, risk assessments for particular areas of risk are documented using standard organisational templates where required. This meets the obligations we hold, and satisfies us that risks are suitably and sufficiently managed.


Written Question
Offenders: Mental Illness
26 Nov 2021

Questioner: Lyn Brown (LAB - West Ham)

Question

To ask the Secretary of State for Justice, with reference to A joint thematic inspection of the criminal justice journey for individuals with mental health needs and disorders, published on 17 November 2021, what recent discussions he has had with Ministerial colleagues in the Department for Health and Social Care on the (a) steps needed to increase the use of Mental Health Treatment Requirements and (b) information-sharing and rates of attendance at Multi-Agency Public Protection Arrangement meetings by mental health providers.

Answered by Victoria Atkins

The Ministry of Justice welcomes the joint thematic inspection and will be providing a formal response and supporting action plan in the new year.

Working with the Department of Health and Social Care and NHS England we will be increasing the availability of Primary Care Mental Health Treatment Requirements to cover at least 50% of all courts by 2023. We are also preparing to launch a campaign with sentencers and court staff to raise awareness of MHTRs where they are available and to promote their use.

The Secretary of State’s statutory guidance to (MAPPA) responsible authorities has a dedicated chapter on mentally-disordered offenders, emphasising the importance of information sharing with and by medical practitioners, to inform risk assessment and risk management. The guidance is available at https://mappa.justice.gov.uk/MAPPA/view?objectID=5682416.

Officials have also undertaken significant work to build awareness on the part of medical practitioners of the role of MAPPA and of their part in the effective delivery of these arrangements in individual cases.


Written Question
Children: Domestic Abuse
5 Nov 2021

Questioner: Apsana Begum (LAB - Poplar and Limehouse)

Question

To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what assessment he has made of the implications for his policies of the removal by the family courts of the children of survivors of domestic abuse.

Answered by Will Quince

The government wants every child to be in a stable, loving home that is right for them. One of the key principles of the law is that children are best looked after within their families. However, in situations where a child is at risk of significant harm, the local authority has a statutory duty to take action to safeguard and promote the child’s welfare.

We recognise that domestic abuse can impact on children’s health, wellbeing and development, with lasting effects into adulthood. The Domestic Abuse Act, which received Royal Assent on 29 April 2021, exemplifies this government’s commitment to ensuring the needs of victims and children are at the forefront of tackling domestic abuse.

The government has recently consulted on draft Domestic Abuse statutory guidance, which emphasises the importance of social workers working in partnership with children, families and professionals, and highlights effective features of practice such as multi-disciplinary working and adopting a strengths-based approach.

The system of family justice in England is based firmly on the principle that children should not be taken into care without a court independently assessing and carefully scrutinising all the evidence first. The court can only make an order where it concludes that there is reasonable cause to believe that the child is suffering from, or is likely to suffer, significant harm if the order were not made - and that taking the child from their family’s care will be in the child’s best interests.


Written Question
Offenders: Insurance
25 Oct 2021

Questioner: Lyn Brown (LAB - West Ham)

Question

To ask the Secretary of State for Justice, what steps he is taking to ensure that constraints on the ability of former offenders to obtain insurance cover are (a) specific and (b) proportionate to the (i) level and (ii) type of potential risk.

Answered by Victoria Atkins

Insurers use their experience to undertake an assessment of risk to set the terms and price at which they will offer insurance cover, based on the likelihood of the individual making a claim and the potential cost of that claim. An ‘unspent’ conviction can be an indicator of risk that some, but not all, insurers use as a rating factor. The Government does not intend to intervene in these commercial decisions by insurers.

However, the Government is working to improve the rehabilitation of offenders to cut crime. In the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill the government is reforming the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 to reduce the time a conviction needs to be disclosed. This action will both reduce the barriers to individuals with previous convictions gaining employment and reduce the numbers that have to declare convictions to insurance companies.


Written Question
Offenders: Insurance
25 Oct 2021

Questioner: Lyn Brown (LAB - West Ham)

Question

To ask the Secretary of State for Justice, what assessment he has made of the impact on rehabilitation and reoffending of constraints on the ability of former offenders to obtain insurance cover.

Answered by Victoria Atkins

Insurers use their experience to undertake an assessment of risk to set the terms and price at which they will offer insurance cover, based on the likelihood of the individual making a claim and the potential cost of that claim. An ‘unspent’ conviction can be an indicator of risk that some, but not all, insurers use as a rating factor. The Government does not intend to intervene in these commercial decisions by insurers.

However, the Government is working to improve the rehabilitation of offenders to cut crime. In the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill the government is reforming the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 to reduce the time a conviction needs to be disclosed. This action will both reduce the barriers to individuals with previous convictions gaining employment and reduce the numbers that have to declare convictions to insurance companies.


Written Question
Low Newton Prison: Mental Health Services
21 Oct 2021

Questioner: Mary Kelly Foy (LAB - City of Durham)

Question

To ask the Secretary of State for Justice, with reference to the 2021 Independent Monitoring Board Report for HMP/YOI Low Newton, what steps he plans to take to (a) ensure that women with severe mental health issues are fast tracked to secure hospitals and (b) reduce the number of women with severe mental health issues in prison.

Answered by Victoria Atkins

We have a responsibility to ensure those in prison receive appropriate care in the right setting, at the right time. Transfer from prison to hospital for those with severe mental health issues can take too long – we acknowledged this in the Government response to the independent review of the Mental Health Act. Since then, NHS England has published guidance to speed up transfers and we have committed to legislate and enshrine a 28-day limit on such transfers in statute. Where a request is received for a transfer to hospital, and the prisoner meets the statutory criteria, a warrant for their transfer should be issued within 7 days.

We are also looking to introduce an independent role to oversee such transfers as part of our reforms to the Mental Health Act.

We have acknowledged that prison should not be used as a ‘place of safety’, where the court can send a person to be temporarily held on the grounds of mental health for their own or others’ protection whilst awaiting an assessment or transfer, and have committed to ending this by amending the Mental Health Act, and putting the necessary operational reforms in place.

More widely, it is essential to ensure that individuals with vulnerabilities are identified early in the criminal justice system. Last year, NHS England secured full coverage of Liaison and Diversion Services in all courts, including women’s pathways to address women’s specific needs. Currently, NHS England is working to enhance these women’s pathways, and a specific women’s lead has been appointed in each service, to work on developing the pathway and appropriately address the needs of female offenders.

We have also invested £9.5m through our Female Offender Strategy to support women’s community services, which provide holistic support to women in contact with the justice system, and those at risk of offending.


Written Question
CAFCASS: Administrative Delays
21 Oct 2021

Questioner: Ellie Reeves (LAB - Lewisham West and Penge)

Question

To ask the Secretary of State for Justice, what assessment he has made of the impact of the backlog of cases in the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service on vulnerable children and families.

Answered by James Cartlidge

The protection of children, particularly those who are most vulnerable, is a priority for this government. We recognise the additional pressures that the family justice system has faced since the Covid-19 pandemic, and the impact this has had on children and families who use the family courts. Since the start of the pandemic the number of new cases issued to Cafcass (Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service) has exceeded the number of cases closed for Cafcass. As at 1 September, Cafcass caseload is 20% higher than March 2020.

The Ministry of Justice has worked closely with Cafcass to manage these pressures and mitigate the impact on its services. Earlier this year £6million in additional funding was agreed to enable Cafcass to increase staff capacity to meet the increased open caseload.

Cafcass has also put in place a protocol to, where necessary, prioritise cases in local service areas so it can continue to meet the needs of the most vulnerable children and families. The approach involves courts working with Cafcass to triage and allocate cases in private law proceedings on the basis of risk and capacity. The Ministry of Justice has agreed an additional £491k to support this work until the end of this financial year.

Cafcass’ prioritisation protocol only applies to private law applications. All public law work continues to be allocated in the normal way and within established timescales. Urgent public law children cases are still being prioritised by the courts, to help safeguard the welfare of the most vulnerable children.


Written Question
CAFCASS: Administrative Delays
21 Oct 2021

Questioner: Ellie Reeves (LAB - Lewisham West and Penge)

Question

To ask the Secretary of State for Justice, what assessment he has made of the level of the backlog of cases in the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service as at 22 September 2021; and what steps he is taking to tackle that backlog.

Answered by James Cartlidge

The protection of children, particularly those who are most vulnerable, is a priority for this government. We recognise the additional pressures that the family justice system has faced since the Covid-19 pandemic, and the impact this has had on children and families who use the family courts. Since the start of the pandemic the number of new cases issued to Cafcass (Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service) has exceeded the number of cases closed for Cafcass. As at 1 September, Cafcass caseload is 20% higher than March 2020.

The Ministry of Justice has worked closely with Cafcass to manage these pressures and mitigate the impact on its services. Earlier this year £6million in additional funding was agreed to enable Cafcass to increase staff capacity to meet the increased open caseload.

Cafcass has also put in place a protocol to, where necessary, prioritise cases in local service areas so it can continue to meet the needs of the most vulnerable children and families. The approach involves courts working with Cafcass to triage and allocate cases in private law proceedings on the basis of risk and capacity. The Ministry of Justice has agreed an additional £491k to support this work until the end of this financial year.

Cafcass’ prioritisation protocol only applies to private law applications. All public law work continues to be allocated in the normal way and within established timescales. Urgent public law children cases are still being prioritised by the courts, to help safeguard the welfare of the most vulnerable children.


Written Question
Extradition: India
20 Oct 2021

Questioner: Patrick Grady (SNP - Glasgow North)

Question

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department, what assessment she has made of the risk of torture for (a) members of the Sikh community and (b) other religious minorities facing extradition to India.

Answered by Damian Hinds

In UK extradition cases, requested persons are given the opportunity of a fair and balanced hearing before an independent court, with procedures which are robust and transparent. It is the role of the UK courts to thoroughly examine whether the conditions which would allow an extradition to take place are met.

These conditions include a comprehensive and rigorous assessment of whether extradition is compatible with the human rights of requested individuals. If there is a risk that the extradition could lead to a breach of those rights, the Extradition Act 2003 (‘the Act’) creates a statutory bar to extradition. Human rights are an extensive suite of protections contained in the Act, which fall to be considered by the courts in every case and includes the risk of torture. These considerations are a judicial not an executive function.


Written Question
Hare Coursing
23 Sep 2021

Questioner: Julian Lewis (CON - New Forest East)

Question

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department, what recent assessment she has made of the scale of the threat posed to farmers by illegal hare coursing on their land, in respect of (a) personal intimidation, (b) damage to gates when forcing access and (c) risk of retaliation against vulnerable farm property, in response to intruders being challenged; what estimate she has made of the scale of the illegal betting rings involved in that criminality; and what discussions her officials have held with the Ministry of Justice on (i) raising substantially the maximum fine from its present level of £1,000 and (ii) imposing custodial sentences on serious offenders.

Answered by Kit Malthouse

This government remains committed to driving down crime in communities, including those which particularly affect rural areas such as hare coursing. Although the scale of harm associated with hare coursing is not captured centrally, this government recognises its impact, which is why we are investing in the financial and operational capabilities of the police, as well as working closely with DEFRA to develop its legislative proposals contained in its Action Plan for Animal Welfare, which will be introduced as soon as parliamentary time allows.

All decisions on sentencing is a matter for our independent courts, which upon making a decision take into account the circumstances of the offence and any aggravating and mitigating factors. Any changes to the sentencing guidelines will be a decision for the Independent Sentencing Council.


Written Question
Courts: Coronavirus
10 Sep 2021

Questioner: Philip Davies (CON - Shipley)

Question

To ask the Secretary of State for Justice, what the consequences are for a (a) witness, (b) defendant, (c) complainant, (d) juror, (e) judicial office holder, (f) court employee and (g) visiting member of the public who does not wear a face mask in accordance with the mandatory covid-19 face covering policy in place from 19 July 2021.

Answered by Chris Philp

The relaxation of COVID-19 restrictions across respective parts of Great Britain this summer has allowed courts and tribunals to operate more flexibly, and so increasingly efficiently. But notwithstanding the success of the Government’s vaccine rollout, some safety measures must continue to remain in place.

There has never been a legal requirement to wear face coverings in a court or tribunal building. Regulations on the wearing of face coverings in place before 19 July in England, imposing criminal sanctions backed by appropriate enforcement powers, applied only in prescribed sectors like retail and transport. However, Public Health guidance has for some time made clear the benefits associated with face coverings, which other sectors have been encouraged to follow. Face coverings can help to minimise exposure to the virus, and therefore reduce the risk of transmission. Accordingly, and alongside a range of other measures embedded to manage Covid risks, in July 2020 HM Courts and Tribunals Service introduced a policy asking that face coverings be worn (unless exempt) across its estate, for the reasons set out in its Organisational Risk Assessment.

Given the lack of any prescribed legal requirement to wear face coverings in court and tribunal buildings, the compliance and enforcement options open to HMCTS before the 19th July are essentially the same as those after 19th July. In determining its policy, HMCTS has considered a range of factors, including the clear balance to be struck between ensuring reasonable compliance of the policy on face coverings, and not damaging the efficacy of proceedings before the court (for example, allowing those who are legally compelled to attend court to avoid that appearance by refusing to wear a covering).

Insofar as members of staff are concerned, HMCTS employees will continue to be required to wear face coverings in court and tribunal buildings, unless exemptions apply. All HMCTS employees have an obligation to follow HR policies. The consequences of non-compliance would be dealt with, as appropriate, under usual personnel management procedures. Members of the judiciary are similarly asked to wear face coverings in certain areas of court and tribunal buildings (not including, for example, whilst presiding in hearing rooms). Any compliance issues would be a matter for the leadership judiciary, not HMCTS.

For court and tribunal users including parties, witnesses, jurors, and members of the public, Court and Tribunal Security Officers (CTSOs) will ask that face coverings are worn upon entry into the buildings and will provide free face coverings if needed. Signage around the buildings make clear where face coverings are to be worn. Ultimately, under the Courts Act 2003 section 53, CTSOs have the power to exclude or remove any person from a building for the purposes of securing the safety of those in the building – which includes for these purposes considering non-compliance with reasonable requests in respect of face coverings introduced and maintained in line with prevailing Public Health guidance. In assessing the need for (and proportionality of) deploying those exclusion/removal powers, CTSOs (acting in consultation with HMCTS managers and the judiciary as necessary) will have regard to the balance between furthering public safety, and ensuring the ongoing efficacy of proceedings, as described above.


Written Question
Probation: Standards
6 Jul 2021

Questioner: Ruth Jones (LAB - Newport West)

Question

To ask the Secretary of State for Justice, what recent assessment he has made of the effectiveness of the probation service in England and Wales.

Answered by Alex Chalk

We have demonstrated our commitment to deliver an effective probation service despite significant challenges over the past years. Throughout the pandemic, the Probation Service has prioritised public protection and risk management, as well as delivery of advice to courts, whilst ensuring staff, people on probation and victims remain safe.

Exceptional Delivery Models, which set out how we operate during the pandemic and ensured services could be continued, were implemented across England and Wales. Guided by public health advice, we took immediate, decisive action to implement a suite of measures, moving to a mixture of face to face and remote methods of supervision. Our staff have worked tirelessly to fulfil their public protection duties by adapting their ways of working to continue to deliver key services. In-person, socially distanced, offender reporting continued to be the default for those people on probation who posed a higher risk, for example Terrorism Act offenders. HM Inspectorate of Probation thematic reviews of our recovery and these Exceptional Delivery Model arrangements both praised our response to the pandemic.

In the longer term, we recognised the need to transform aspects of our probation service. On 26th June, we took a key step forward with the launch of a new unified probation service for England and Wales. The additional investment of an extra £155 million both last year and this year has been key to making these changes happen.

Having completed the transition to the new organisation, my priority is now to deliver improvements in the services probation delivers. There are now twelve probation regions across England and Wales, each overseen by a Regional Probation Director who will closely monitor the effectiveness of their service, enabling more local accountability, partnership working and services that more closely meet individuals’ diverse needs. We have recruited a record 1,000 new trainees last year and a further 1,500 officers this financial year to supervise offenders. This will reduce the average case load size for probation officers so that the public can be better protected. As we move forward with the new probation service and away from the difficulties caused by the pandemic, we are committed to evidence-informed practice. In addition to a robust performance framework for the unified probation service, we will be evaluating these reforms to probation to ensure we are delivering the best possible service.