Conference, it is brilliant to be back here with you in Birmingham.
It is a time I always look forward to – where we come together as one Conservative family to reaffirm our common cause. And my new ministerial team is here with us too, Rachel Maclean, Mike Freer, Rob Butler, Gareth Johnson, my PPS Gareth Bacon, who all work with me at the Ministry of Justice along with Lord Bellamy.
Our Party has a long and very proud history as the party of freedom and opportunity.
An unwavering belief in integrity and individualism supported by a robust and unapologetic approach to law and order, public safety, and sound stewardship of the economy.
Britain is known as a bastion of law and order and it is why people invest here. Safety and security for ourselves, and for our families ... at home, in our neighbourhoods, in our schools and shops, is the bedrock of economic growth.
Public safety means peace of mind. It means safer streets and healthy communities. It means local investment and economic opportunity.
It is these priorities – of safety, of security and of stability – for everyone, in every community, in every corner of the country -- that we all hold dear.
At the forefront of that effort will be the hidden heroes of our society, many of whom are also the backbone of our criminal justice system.
Our prisons and probation staff, who work so hard every single day to protect the public and keep us all safe from the most serious and prolific offenders.
Our dedicated courts and tribunals staff who enable justice to be done in courtrooms across the length and breadth of the country.
It’s not just the system that matters. It’s the people.
It has been a tough time for our country, and the criminal justice system is no different.
We cannot shy away from that. We must face down the difficulties so that we can guarantee victims and survivors the access to justice that they all deserve.
As your Lord Chancellor and Justice Secretary, I can promise you I will do just that.
Like many of our public services, the judicial system was hit hard by the pandemic. Our courts were closed, justice was delayed, and a backlog of cases built up.
We got through the pandemic, now we must get through the backlogs.
I want to make sure that everyone has swift access to justice – whoever they are and wherever they are from. The justice system should not be a lottery.
That is why I have already taken action to address the courts backlog. While there are many challenges that have contributed to the backlog, the key to unlocking our clogged-up courts will be ending the barristers’ strike over legal aid fees.
The action has had a devastating impact on victims and justice has been delayed in too many cases.
In my first few days as Lord Chancellor, I met the Criminal Bar Association, and last week we proposed a comprehensive new package that I hope will bring a swift end to the strike.
We must end the revolving door on industrial action, ending this cycle of brinkmanship.
We must put the criminal justice system on a more sustainable footing for the long term.
That will allow more cases to be heard, more quickly, for the benefit of all – including victims of some of the most horrific crimes like rape and serious sexual violence.
Violence Against Women and Girls
We are overhauling the way that rape and sexual abuse victims are supported through the whole criminal justice system so that more cases come to court and more predators are put behind bars.
We have made some good progress, convictions are up by two thirds on 2020 and a quarter compared to before the pandemic hit. There is more to do.
The Government has set out clear actions for the police, prosecutors and the courts to make sure more rapists are convicted and put away.
We have invested significantly in support for victims and survivors meaning more support for victims when they first report a crime and more support when their case gets to court.
We want to reduce the trauma involved in the trial process and improve the quality and reliability of evidence.
For example, victims of rape and serious sexual offences can now pre-record their evidence ahead of trial, avoiding the additional trauma of testifying in a court room. We are also piloting the use of independent advisers to guide them through what can be a very difficult and daunting process.
And we are boosting the accessibility of support with a new 24/7 rape and sexual abuse support helpline – so people can access the help they need, whenever and wherever they need it.
Stamping out violence against women and girls cannot end at the prison gates.
It is not right that transgender prisoners, when convicted of serious sexual offences or those who have not had reassignment surgery, are housed in the general women’s prison estate.
Conference, this will end.
We have a duty of care to all of those behind bars.
And there have been too many incidents of sex attacks or inappropriate relationships formed with female prisoners by transgender inmates in recent years.
Our management of trans prisoners will rely not just on common sense but also capacity. If we need to expand our use of specialist cells for trans prisoners to further protect women in prison, we will.
Indeed, as a Government, we are committed to creating 20,000 new prison places across the whole system by the middle of this decade.
Prison must be about punishment of the criminal and protection of the innocent, first and foremost.
Depriving people who have broken our laws of their liberties to guarantee the rest of us our cherished freedoms.
Thanks to our manifesto commitment to recruit 20,000 new police officers, we will catching and punishing more criminals – and preventing crime as we do it. Our prisons need to keep up.
But there is much more we must do to divert people away from prison and a life of crime in the first place.
Hardened career criminals are not born, they are made.
We will avoid putting some of those convicted of more low-level offences on that conveyor belt by expanding our world-leading GPS tagging project for neighbourhood crime: targeted at burglars, robbers and thieves.
This compulsory electronic monitoring and close supervision will mean police and probation officers are able to keep an even closer eye on them when they leave prison.
Their whereabouts will be able to be known 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, with the ability to impose robust restrictions or effective house arrest.
We will maximise our use of new technology like GPS tracking to reduce crime and protect the public from neighbourhood thugs who blight our communities.
In doing so, we will reduce crime and deter reoffending.
These are common sense solutions to common problems.
Prisons and Parole
This Government will also ensure the very worst offenders are locked up for longer. And our new prison places will be vital in helping us to do that.
Those who commit heinous crimes, and who continue to be a threat, must be punished and the public must be protected.
The guarantee of public protection must be the overriding factor in parole decisions – so that we can secure the rightful confidence of both victims and the public.
I will make sure that the Parole Board is more accountable and transparent about how its decisions are made.
This week, we are due to have the first ever public parole hearing after we reformed the process earlier this year.
These reforms to the parole process will boost public protection, improve transparency and accountability, better supporting the victims of some of the country’s most horrendous crimes.
Better supporting victims and survivors must also mean reducing reoffending and more effective rehabilitation.
Prisoners must appreciate the value of hard work and personal responsibility. That means those who have been in prison paying back into their communities and the country’s coffers.
It’s based on the simple principle of fairness that we all embrace.
We will equip prisoners with the training and skills they need to become active participants in the jobs market.
And we have just introduced new legislation to allow prisoners to take up apprenticeships behind bars for the first time. They can help build communities, while rebuilding their lives.
These apprenticeships will give them the skills they need to get jobs on release and pay their own way.
We cannot tax our way to growth, instead we must create the conditions for the economy to thrive.
Our legal services industry is full of opportunities for growth.
It is already worth £29 billion to the UK economy and employs over 350,000 people and is the foundation for over £250 billion of international mergers and acquisitions.
Thanks to our values, our traditions, and our history, we are the world’s counsel and court room.
English Law is recognised around the globe.
I will work to promote our exceptional, extraordinary legal services industry to the world and see it recognised as part of our new post-Brexit free trade agreements.
The critical importance of our whole justice system to our country cannot be overstated.
It underpins all we do, all that we achieve, and all we believe in. It impacts everyone, everywhere.
I take the responsibility to safeguard and sustain it very seriously.
It means peace of mind.
It defines our quality of life.
Our justice system is the foundation of what makes Britain great – and it is the envy of the world.
For Great Britain is truly great when we have safe streets, healthy neighbourhoods and thriving communities.
That is what we as Conservatives believe in and strive for: and it is what this Conservative Government will deliver.