Policy-making for party conference season used to be like preparing for feeding time at the zoo – like throwing red meat at particularly voracious carnivores, who finish it quickly and move onto the next meal. Now, post-Brexit, it feels like slim pickings with the audience at the security and justice session in Birmingham left with little to chew on. Justice Secretary Liz Truss, in particular, would have received a weak restaurant review by AA Gill but his former wife, Home Secretary Amber Rudd, would have fared rather better.
The key policy ingredients:
- Truss announced that she would publish a white paper on prison reform, with legislation to follow in 2017, and an extra 400 prison staff in “the most challenging” prisons through £14 million of extra spending; less than the MoJ spends in daylight hours in one day.
- Rudd focussed on social reform, talking about vulnerability, and cutting immigration. Rudd announced new rules to deport foreign criminals and impose longer jail terms on terrorists by extending public power of review of sentences.
- Rudd also committed to publish a new counter terrorism strategy, and to ramp up investment in security services, and to finish police reform.
- Police and Crime Commissioners were praised by the Home Secretary (they met up yesterday) – signalling the intention to expand their roles. Truss did not mention PCCs once, however, and it is her department where greater devolution is most likely to occur.
- The day after the opening of the National Cyber Security Centre – led by Ciaran Martin, formerly director general for cyber at GCHQ in London – the Defence Secretary signalled further cash to countering cyber crime.
- Truss’ speech was light on policy substance. In a sense, that is to be expected, given how long she has had to master her brief. Yet even on the overall direction of reform, we are not much clearer today than we were last month on what her intentions are on prison reform. Just last month, she appeared to pour cold water on her predecessor’s bold reform agenda. Today, she said she was committed to a ‘radical blueprint’ but there is still a lack of detail about whether Gove’s agenda of autonomy for prison governors, which lay at the heart of the last government’s Queen’s Speech, is still a priority.
- The speeches were as notable for what they didn’t say as what they did. There was nothing on the (long awaited) Charlie Taylor review on youth justice, nothing on access to legal aid and little on the future of justice devolution. The Home Secretary did not make clear which of the EU justice/ home affairs powers (which include the European Arrest Warrant) she was committed to keeping Britain signed up to, declaring only that she would “put Britain’s interests first” and continue to co-operate with European partners. Extending the right to challenge lenient sentences to terrorism cases closes a loophole rather than breaks new ground; modern-day slavery and child abuse are important issues but hardly new.
- Despite the PM’s clear desire to ensure Brexit does not overshadow her government’s domestic agenda, it continues to cast a shadow over everything. It is clearly impossible to set out a clear direction on immigration policy without getting into the implications of Brexit for our system of border control. More broadly, if the PM is as keen to grip departments as tightly as has been suggested, and yet will become increasingly preoccupied with Brexit, it may be some time before the choicest policy cuts are back on the menu.
Sophie du Mont
Strategy and Insight Manager
Sophie du Mont is Strategy and Insight Manager at Crest Advisory. She analyses and evaluates statistics and existing policies affecting the criminal justice system.
Director of Development
Jon Clements is Director of Development at Crest Advisory, and formerly a crime reporter for ITV News and the Daily Mirror.