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Staff Blog: Which Truss will we get in the Ministry of Justice?

Truss – meaning:

  1. “a framework, typically consisting of rafters, posts, and struts, supporting a roof, bridge, or other structure.”

  2. ” to tie the arms and legs of someone together tightly and roughly with rope to prevent them from moving or escaping”

It sometimes seemed like there were two Michael Goves. The compassionate, sensible, consultative penal reformer in the Ministry of Justice and the expert-hating, Turkey-baiting campaigner in the Ministry of Leavers. Now Mr Gove really has left the building, what can we expect from his successor?

Liz Truss – Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

Remarkably, she is the first ever female Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice. She was state-educated and has had jobs in accounting, for Shell and Cable & Wireless. Prior to taking over at Justice today, she was Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affair.

She has never worked in the law or justice system, or in the justice department, but was a member of the Justice Select Committee between March 2011 and November 2012.

Cabinet Reshuffle

The system of ministerial posts and reshuffles is bizarre. A Secretary of State is in charge of a whole sector or industry and can have a profound influence. They do not have to apply for the post or need to demonstrate any experience or expertise in that field. This is in marked contrast, for example, to civil service recruitment for even the most junior of roles.

The risks that this brings are obvious. The ideological, uninformed and opinionated bring strong views, great instability and conflict into the sector. The alternative is that the Minister has a huge amount to learn about the sector and is very reliant on advice they receive.

Mr Grayling threw a succession of grenades into the justice system. Mr Gove, apparently reflecting on his tumultuous period in Education, was more patient, conciliatory and thoughtful. He was unexpectedly progressive in his language and actions, particularly in relation to prison reform.

Are there any clues as to what Lord (Lady?) Chancellor Truss will do in her new role?

According to Hansard she has made a small handful of reported comments on the subject of prisons and justice. The most recent, in her present role, was to celebrate the fact that, from April, all 30 million cartons of milk supplied to prisons will be British. Not the milk snatcher then.

Prior to that, she lauded the introduction of television cameras in courts to improve transparency and asked about plans to improve transparency in the Prison Service. I am confident that many prisoners would welcome any efforts to pursue this now that she has power to do so.

She has criticised the cost of the criminal justice and legal aid system and suggested that there are many areas where savings can be found without cutting front-line services. Many users of the criminal justice system will be able to point to hugely expensive and disastrous outsourcing projects and outdated processes which could save money. The legal aid system is on its knees and can barely cope with the cuts which have been made.

She has complained about court closures in her local area and emphasized the importance of the justice system not becoming over-centralised and being seen to be done locally.

The horse may well have bolted here already. One of the least popular acts by her predecessor was to accelerate the process of court closures. However, there has been a move towards some decentralization of the criminal justice system which she may presumably be interested in developing.

Prison Reform

The prison system is in crisis. There is a great deal that needs to be done quickly if it is not to erupt. There is a huge programme of change underway in the courts and justice system. An enormous amount of disruption has been brought to the sector by huge cuts in legal aid which has created a steep rise in unrepresented litigants, delays and (less visibly) a decline in the quality of justice.

Working in a constrained austerity justice system for the past few years has felt very much like Truss Meaning 2. What is needed now is Truss Meaning 1 – swift, skilled work on the framework to ensure that it is renewed, repaired and does not collapse.

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