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Debates & Lectures archive

20th November 2013 at 6.05pm

Cheapside Debate in Prisons Week: ‘Justice for all: are the Government's current reforms of law and order right and workable?’

The debate was presented in association with the Sheriffs’ and Recorder’s Fund

Jonathan Aitken (former Conservative cabinet minister)
Andy Slaughter MP (Shadow Minister for Justice)

His Honour Judge Peter Rook QC

Download a recording of the debate here


JUDGE PETER ROOK QC introduced the debate, saying that criminal law has become more complicated in recent decades. In the last 40 years the aid budget has increased hugely; it is no wonder that governments are concerned.

JONATHAN AITKEN observed that, in the economic crisis, criminal justice in not exempt from cuts. There had been some fat in the prison budget; now the Prison Officers’ Association had replaced its previous militancy with a very moderate leadership, which has agreed reforms in the form of cuts of up to 30%. The biggest reform is transforming rehabilitation. 52,000 offenders leave gaol without any form of supervision; these ex-offenders are now to be supervised and trained for one year; as well as the probation service, private companies and voluntary and community organisations will all contribute. He admitted that there are flaws to be addressed in that 75% of probation service time is spent on things other than ex-offender supervision; this can be eased through the involvement of the voluntary and charitable sectors.

ANDY SLAUGHTER MP said that around one third will be cut from the Ministry of Justice’s budget, affecting especially legal aid and social welfare. That will be detrimental to the poorest getting access to justice, with only asylum and eviction taking priority. Cuts at that level mean that the NHS and the benefits service start to pick up the bill. It will tip the balance away from the individual in favour of large corporations. Older, more expensive prisons are being casually closed in a cash-driven but short-sighted way. There is an increased risk to the public when serious offenders are released early and private companies entrusted with managing their supervision. We tamper with the justice system at our peril.