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Ministry of Justice

Volume 698: debated on Tuesday 29 January 2008

My right honourable friend the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice (Jack Straw) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

I am today announcing a new structure for the Ministry of Justice which will help to deliver further improvements in our core aims: reducing reoffending and creating more efficient, effective offender management services in custody and the community, improving access to justice and the effective administration of the justice system, building an effective relationship with the judiciary and delivering constitutional reform and working for a just and democratic society. The changes underline our commitment to public protection, strengthening closer working between prisons and probation and making the most of public funds while creating the right conditions for the delivery of the whole of the Ministry of Justice’s wide agenda.

The Ministry of Justice was established on 9 May 2007.  It brought together the former responsibilities of the Department for Constitutional Affairs with the National Offender Management Service from the Home Office and the trilateral Office for Criminal Justice Reform.  The new department has a wide-ranging remit with major delivery responsibilities for prisons and probation, the courts and tribunals, legal aid and more, as well as important policy responsibilities ranging from constitutional reform and devolution, democracy and human rights to the justice system.  When the department was set up, the then Permanent Secretary commissioned a review to develop proposals for a new structure and ways of working to equip the department better to deliver on its aims and priorities.

Two further important pieces of work have fed into this review—Lord Carter’s report on prisons, on which I reported to the House on 5 December 2007 (Official Report, Commons, col. 827) and the work to develop a partnership relationship with the judiciary, which I reported to the House on 23 January 2008 (Official Report, Commons, col. 54WS). The changes to the structure of the Ministry of Justice which I am announcing today are the fruit of all of this work.  The Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Justice will be providing further detail to staff about the changes.

The new top structure of the department will come into place on 1 April with the more detailed changes being implemented over the next few months to provide a coherent structure for managing the department’s key challenges—on public protection and reducing reoffending, constitutional reform, and access to justice.  This streamlined top structure and new ways of working will help the department to implement Lord Carter’s recommendations on offender management services, to take forward the new partnership relationship with the judiciary and to focus more clearly on its key policy and delivery challenges.  We have taken a robust approach to removing duplication and improving efficiency.

A key element of these changes is to drive forward the next stage in offender management.  The National Offender Management Service (NOMS) was created in 2004 and has already brought a greater degree of coherence to offender management.  Reoffending rates are down, successful drug treatments and offending behaviour programmes are up, community payback is thriving, and prolific offenders and those posing a high risk of harm are now subject to end-to-end offender management.  The structure I am announcing today will allow NOMS to build on this success and take forward Lord Carter’s proposals for streamlining management structures and reducing overhead costs.  We will bring NOMS and the Prison Service together, and streamline the headquarters so as to improve the focus on frontline delivery of prisons and probation and improve efficiency.  The chief executive of the restructured NOMS will run public prisons and manage performance across the sector, through service-level agreements and formal contracts with probation boards and trusts, private prisons and other service providers.  Having commissioning and performance management for both prisons and probation in a single organisational structure will further drive forward joined-up offender management and deliver essential savings.

The new director-general for criminal justice and offender management strategy will set the strategic direction for offender management and regulate the increasingly diverse range of providers and work with the judiciary on the proposals for a sentencing commission.

The chief executive of the Office for Criminal Justice Reform will report to this director-general, which will enable OCJR to strengthen joint working between the police, Crown Prosecution Service and HMCS together with prison, probation and youth justice services.  My right honourable friend the Home Secretary, my noble and learned friend the Attorney-General and I have reaffirmed our commitment to OCJR continuing as a distinct trilateral team, supporting the three criminal justice departments and the National Criminal Justice Board as well as local criminal justice boards. 

Changes to the regional organisation of offender management will be implemented on a phased basis to merge the roles of area manager in the Prison Service and regional offender managers in NOMS.  A new, single regional manager will commission prison and probation services, from public, private and third-sector providers.  These individuals will have authority to deliver national policies in ways that meet the needs of their regional contexts.  And, in turn, individual prison governors and probation boards and trusts will have the authority they need to determine how best to deliver what is required of them.  We plan to introduce this structure in London and in Wales from April and complete these changes in all regions over the next 12 to 24 months.

A new democracy, constitution and law director-general will bring together work on the governance of Britain agenda for constitutional reform, launched by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister in a Green Paper last July, including a possible new British Bill of rights and responsibilities, leading work on constitutional reform, democratic engagement, devolution and information management for government.  It will also provide legal services to the department and lead work on law reform policy. 

Responsibilities for justice issues will be under a new access to justice director-general, who will lead a group that brings together the courts and tribunals with legal aid and regulation of the legal profession.

Under the new partnership model, which the Lord Chief Justice and I announced on 23 January a new board for HMCS with an independent, non-executive chair will hold the chief executive to account and facilitate the working of the new partnership relationship with the judiciary.  HMCS staff will have a joint duty to the Lord Chief Justice and to me as Lord Chancellor for the effective and efficient operation of the courts.  The access to justice director-general will ensure that the excellent work on streamlining the courts is linked more effectively with modernisation elsewhere in the justice system, including in legal aid and regulation of the legal profession.

Finally, a new corporate performance director-general will bring together the key cross-cutting functions in the MoJ to ensure that one of the largest departments in Whitehall has cost-effective shared services and professional support.

The changes that the Permanent Secretary and I are announcing today set the high level structure for the department.  The new structure will provide the department with a sharper focus on its key priorities, including public protection and reducing reoffending, and improving relations with the judiciary, while streamlining leadership across the whole of the department’s agenda.  The new structure will ensure a more joined-up approach to issues of justice and constitutional reform and with a clearer focus on efficiency through the removal of duplication and overlapping responsibilities.  There is much work to be done on the detail of these changes before the top structure comes into effect in April.  I know that our key partners will want to contribute their thoughts on how this should be done and the department has set up an e-mail address for comments over the next four weeks (communications@justice.gsi.gov.uk).  I should, of course, be very happy to have comments from honourable and right honourable Members and noble Lords.