Is the Ministry of Justice living on borrowed time?

Work with offenders looks at the rationale behind an interesting reshuffle.

It’s easy to think of our government departments as long-standing and venerable, representing centuries of stability and tradition.

However, that’s not always the case. The Ministry of Justice, for instance, was only formed in May 2007 when some functions of the Home Secretary were combined with the Department for Constitutional Affairs (the latter having replaced the Lord Chancellor’s Department in 2003).

Now there are rumours afoot that the MoJ is in line either to be dramatically slimmed down or to be scrapped altogether. There have been rumours about the MoJ being consigned to history since Boris Johnson was elected to Prime Minister last summer.

More fuel has been added to this particular fire following the first reshuffle of Mr Johnson’s new administration earlier this month. The Justice Secretary, Robert Buckland, and the Prisons and Probation Minister, Lucy Frazer, remained in post so initially little seem to have changed with the media unsurprisingly focusing on the unexpected resignation of the Chancellor Sajid Javid.

However, a number of new appointments raised eyebrows although it wasn’t until yesterday that the MoJ finally published the responsibilities of the new ministerial team. There were two particularly interesting appointments. Firstly, Kit Malthouse who was already Minister of State at the Home Office with responsibility for Crime and Policing was also appointed to the MoJ with a sizeable portfolio, being responsible for:cross-cutting criminal justice system issues. In particular:

  • rape review
  • cross-criminal justice system demand
  • swift justice with knife crime focus
  • reducing reoffending (joint work with Lucy Frazer QC MP)
  • support on criminal justice board and Prime Minister’s Crime Taskforce
  • electronic monitoring (joint work with Lucy Frazer QC MP)
  • drugs and alcohol
  • joint Spending Review bids.

It’s important to remember that Mr Malthouse was Boris Johnson’s Deputy Mayor in charge of Policing and Crime in London and the two have a close and long-standing working relationship.

Similarly Chris Philp, who was already Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Ministry of Justice, both retained that original role but was also given a long list of responsibilities at the Home Office:

  • compliance environment
  • detention
  • returns
  • foreign national offenders
  • illegal immigration strategy
  • overseas development aid
  • Immigration Enforcement
  • asylum
  • resettlement
  • casework
  • nationality
  • animals (illegal wildlife trade)
  • sponsorship of Border Force and Immigration Enforcement directorates
  • supporting Lords Minister on corporate affairs, including the Spending Review and Budget.

Finally, an additional Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, Alex Chalk, was appointed to the MoJ expanding the ministerial team and having responsibility for a large portfolio, even though his post is described on the MoJ website as “unpaid” (he will not receive additional remuneration for being a minister on top of his MP’s salary). His list of responsibilities is considerable:

  • Family law and justice
  • Domestic abuse and violence (MoJ lead)
  • Legal aid
  • Legal support
  • Victims
  • Mental capacity and the Office of the Public Guardian
  • Race disparity in the justice system
  • Coroners, burials, inquests and inquiries
  • Miscarriages of justice
  • Criminal law
  • Human Rights
  • Lawfare
  • Devolved Administrations and devolution
  • Independent Monitoring Authority
  • Shadow Commons minister for Lord Keen’s portfolio
  • Supporting the Secretary of State on future EU relationship and international business
  • Parliamentary Minister.

The Telegraph covered the story over the weekend with its sources suggesting that Mr Malthouse was likely to be given responsibility for sentencing in the MoJ. Although this is not yet officially the case as you can see from the list of Mr Malthouse’s responsibilities above, it is clear that he will be very influential, holding the brief for high profile and politically sensitive topics such as cross-cutting criminal justice issues, knife crime and joint spending review bids. The Telegraph speculates that responsibility for both sentencing and probation could be moved away from Petty France altogether and returned to the Home Office in the not-so-distant future.

Watch this space.