* In the current Parliamentary Session, the following Public Bill Committees have concluded their consideration of the Bill earlier than scheduled: Criminal Finances, Cultural Property (Armed Conflicts), Health Service Medical Supplies (Costs), Neighbourhood Planning, Savings (Government Contributions), Technical and Further Education, Commonwealth Development Corporation, Children & Social Work, National Citizen Service, and Bus Services.
Aims of the Bill
The Prisons and Courts Bill covers a number of policy areas that fall within the Ministry of Justice’s remit, from prisons to whiplash to online criminal convictions. The Bill, which is composed of six parts, deals with four discrete areas.
- Part 1 on prison reform
- Parts 2 and 3 on reforming the court and tribunal system
- Part 4 on the judiciary and the Judicial Appointments Commission; and
- Part 5 on whiplash.
Part 1 of the Bill concerns prison reform. The Government’s November 2016 white paper, Prison Safety and Reform, set out a range of proposals to deal with increasing levels of violence and self-harm in prisons and the persistently high levels of reoffending. A central proposal was greater autonomy for prison governors, currently being piloted in six "reform prisons".
A new statutory purpose
Clause 1 sets out a new statutory purpose for prisons promised by the white paper (similar declaratory provisions exist in legislation for probation and youth justice) and amends the Secretary of State’s duties to include reporting on the extent to which prisons are achieving that purpose.
Inspection and oversight
Clause 2 makes some changes to the law governing Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons, and provides inspectors with some additional powers. Clauses 4-20 would put the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman on a statutory footing.
Prison security – mobile phones and drugs
The provisions on prison security in chapter 3 of Part 1 build on recent legislation to help deal with two major challenges to prison security: illicit mobile phones and psychoactive substances. A 2012 Act already allows prison governors to interfere with wireless telegraphy in prisons in order either to block mobile phones or detect their use. Clause 21 would allow the Secretary of State to authorise telecoms and internet service providers to do this. Legislation in 2015 and 2016 was brought in to deal with New Psychoactive Substances (NPSs), including introducing a new offence of possession in a custodial setting. Clause 22 would allow for prisoners to be tested for NPSs without each individual substance needing to be specified separately.
Court reformParts 2 and 3
of the Prison and Courts Bill will make significant changes to courts and tribunals system in England and Wales. The provisions includes reforms to the criminal courts, civil courts, the family courts and tribunals in England and Wales.
The provisions in Parts 2 and 3 predominantly relate to Her Majesty’s Court and Tribunal’s (HMCTS) Reform Programme, which was launched in March 2014. The programme, and this Bill, aim to modernise the justice system and improve access to justice, through a series of reforms designed to integrate technology and enhance efficiency.
The proposed reforms to the criminal courts focus on expanded use of technology, in particular by providing for more hearings and decisions to be conducted in writing (including electronically) or virtually via audio and video links. The proposals that have attracted most comment are those to enable "fully virtual" court hearings, and those to introduce a new automated online conviction procedure for certain low-level non-imprisonable offences.
Part 2 of the Bill also provides the legal foundations for the introduction of new online procedures and online dispute resolution (ODR) for the civil courts, family courts and tribunals. The clauses enable the creation of a new online court that could deal with low value money claims below £25,000, as was recommended by Lord Justice Briggs’ Civil Courts Structure Review. The clauses would allow new online procedures to apply to existing civil courts, family courts and tribunals.
Judiciary and the Judicial Appointments CommissionPart 4
of the Bill concerns judicial terms and conditions, and the role of the Judicial Appointments Commission. The former provisions of the Bill largely follow from the Ministry of Justice’s consultation on Modernising Judicial Terms and Conditions, while the latter follow from certain recommendations in the Triennial Review of the Judicial Appointments Commission. There are also minor changes to the law on deployment of judges and the remuneration of Employment Tribunal members.
At present, some leadership roles are held on a fixed term basis whereas others are not. Many leadership judge positions are non-statutory, and thus can already be held on a fixed-term basis without the need for legislation. Clause 56 amends the law to allow the remaining statutory judicial leadership positions to be held on a fixed-term basis, in line with the conclusions of the Ministry of Justice’s consultation. The Government claim that this will create a clearer career path and improve diversity in the judiciary. The Bill does not specify how long the term will be for any such appointments, as this is left to the Lord Chancellor to decide following consultation with the judiciary. Proposals to appoint all fee-paid judges on fixed-term appointments were included in the consultation but are not being taken forward in the Bill.
Clause 60 amends the law to allow the Lord Chancellor to direct the Judicial Appointments Commission (JAC) to provide its advice on appointments both within and without the United Kingdom, even where those appointments are non-judicial in nature. The JAC is also empowered to set up a charging model to recoup the costs of providing this advice. This is following a recommendation in the Triennial Review that these duties were formalised, as they were already being sought out due to the JAC’s expertise in the realm of appointments.
Part 5 of the Bill deals with whiplash, including the definition of whiplash; damages for whiplash injuries; an uplift, in exceptional circumstances, to the amount of damages; banning settlement of claims before medical report; and regulation of the ban on pre-medical settlement. Much of the detail would be included in secondary legislation, which, in many cases, would be subject to the affirmative resolution procedure.
Follow the progress of the Prisons and Courts Bill
The Prisons and Courts Bill was presented to the House of Commons on 23 February 2017 and had its second reading debate on 20 March 2017.
This Bill has now been committed to a Public Bill Committee which will hold its oral evidence sessions on Tuesday 28th March 2017. The Public Bill Committee must conclude by Thursday 27th April 2017.
Guidance on submitting written evidence
Deadline for written evidence submissionsThe Public Bill Committee is now able to receive written evidence. The sooner you send in your submission, the more time the Committee will have to take it into consideration. Once the Committee has dealt with an amendment it will not revisit it. The order in which amendments are taken in Committee will be available in due course under Selection of Amendments on the Bill documents pages.
The Committee is expected to meet for the first time on Tuesday 28th March 2017; it will stop receiving written evidence at the end of the Committee stage on Thursday 27th April 2017. Please note that when the Committee concludes its consideration of the Bill it is no longer able to receive written evidence and it can conclude earlier than the expected deadline of 5.00pm on Thursday 27th April 2017.
What should written evidence cover?
Your submission should address matters contained within the Bill and concentrate on issues where you have a special interest or expertise, and factual information of which you would like the Committee to be aware.
Your submission could most usefully:
It is helpful if the submission includes a brief introduction about you or your organisation. The submission should not have been previously published or circulated elsewhere.
If you have any concerns about your submission, please contact the Scrutiny Unit (details below).
How should written evidence be submitted?
Your submission should be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please note that submissions sent to the Government department in charge of the Bill will not be treated as evidence to the Public Bill Committee. Submissions should be in the form of a Word document. A summary should be provided. Paragraphs should be numbered, but there should be no page numbering.
Essential statistics or further details can be added as annexes, which should also be numbered. To make publication easier, please avoid the use of coloured graphs, complex diagrams or pictures. As a guideline, submissions should not exceed 3,000 words.
Please include in the covering email the name, address, telephone number and email address of the person responsible for the submission. The submission should be dated.
What will happen to my evidence?
The written evidence will be circulated to all Committee Members to inform their consideration of the Bill.
Most submissions will also be published on the internet as soon as possible after the Committee has started sitting.
Those making a submission to a Bill Committee should note the following:
- Committees publish most of the written evidence they receive on the internet (where it will be accessible to search engines).
If you do not wish your submission to be published, you must clearly say so and explain your reasons for not wishing its disclosure. The committee will take this into account in deciding whether to publish. If you wish to include private or confidential information in your submission to the committee, please contact the clerk of the committee to discuss this. The Scrutiny Unit (details below) will be able to provide you with contact details for the clerk.
- A Committee is not obliged to accept your submission as evidence, nor to publish any or all of the submission even if it has been accepted as evidence. This may occur where a submission is very long or contains material to which it is inappropriate to give parliamentary privilege (see Guide for Witnesses ( PDF 1.23 MB)for further information on parliamentary privilege).
- Material already published elsewhere should not form the basis of a submission, but may be referred to within a submission, in which case it should be clearly referenced, preferably with a hyperlink.
- You should be careful not to comment on matters currently before a court of law, or matters in respect of which court proceedings are imminent. If you anticipate such issues arising, you should discuss with the clerk of the committee how this might affect your submission.
- Once submitted, no public use should be made of any submission prepared specifically for the committee unless you have first obtained permission from the clerk of the committee. If you are given permission by the committee to publish your evidence separately, you should be aware that you will be legally responsible for its content.
- Evidence which is accepted by the Committee may be published online at any stage; when it is so published it becomes subject to parliamentary copyright and is protected by parliamentary privilege.
- Once you have received acknowledgement that the evidence has been published you may publicise or publish your evidence yourself. In doing so you must indicate that it was prepared for the Committee, and you should be aware that your publication or re-publication of your evidence may not be protected by parliamentary privilege.
- Public Bill Committees do not investigate individual cases of complaint or allegations of maladministration.
- The personal information you supply will be processed in accordance with the provisions of the Data Protection Act 1998 for the purposes of attributing the evidence you submit and contacting you as necessary in connection with its processing.
- The Clerk of the House of Commons is the data controller for the purposes of the Act.
- If you have any queries or concerns about the collection and use of this information please advise the committee team providing your full contact details.
Scrutiny Unit contact details
Telephone: 020 7219 8387
Address: Ian Hook
Senior Executive Officer
House of Commons
London SW1A OAA