New Lord Chancellor Liz Truss has set out her priorities for the justice department, with the introduction of a British Bill of Rights one of three priorities.
Speaking at a meeting of the Justice Select Committee, she said that “making sure our prisons are places of safety and reform” is “the most pressing issue I face as justice secretary.”
“We cannot press on with our reform plan without making sure prisons are safe,” she said, citing statistics showing a 40 per cent increase in violence against prison officers in the past year.
However, she did not commit to predecessor Michael Gove’s planned prison reform legislation.
Truss said her second priority was “making sure the justice system works for everyone,” with court reform playing a key part in that aim.
“We we have ambitions to go far further” on court reform, Truss said, adding: “I think there are huge opportunities to engage people much more in the justice process, to make the justice system simpler and more understandable for those who use it, to make it more swift, and to make sure justice is done.”
She then mentioned the Bill of Rights, saying: “That is a manifesto commitment that we are proceeding with, and that is the third priority I will be looking at.”
Quizzed on what the point of repealing the Human Rights Act would be, given that the Prime Minister has indicated Britain will not be withdrawing from the European Convention on Human Rights, Truss said: “What the British Bill of Rights will do is protect our rights but in a better way.”
“There are problems with the Human Rights Act that are nothing to do with Europe.”
However, she refused to be drawn when quizzed on detail of what the new Bill might contain, saying: “The department is still working on the proposal.”
Legal commenters on Twitter were unimpressed.
Liz Truss is particularly struggling badly on constitutional law questions, among most other issues.
— Matt Noble (@MattNoble_) September 7, 2016
Liz Truss was far from impressive before the justice committee. She seems pretty vague about what she's doing.
— Carl Gardner (@carlgardner) September 7, 2016
Liz Truss says that plans for five new prisons within the next 44 months are underway but declines to identify proposed sites
— Alan Travis (@alantravis40) September 7, 2016
Liz Truss can’t say how much of the cost of the new prisons will be funded by the sale of old prisons.
— Joshua Rozenberg (@JoshuaRozenberg) September 7, 2016
Half an hour of Liz Truss's management-speak guff is almost enough to make you miss Michael Gove. It's actually that bad
— Jack Blanchard (@Jack_Blanchard_) September 7, 2016
Truss is the first woman to hold the office of Lord Chancellor after new Prime Minister Theresa May sacked Michael Gove in July.