Following the NCW campaign with Affiliate Prison Reform Trust and the amendments debate in the House of Lords, the Bill is now at the report stage, offering another opportunity to press the Government for Women’s Justice Reform.

NCW takes encouragement from the fact that Lord McNally, responding for the Government in the debate, quoted and fully endorsed the closing statement from a letter to the Guardian, signed by Juliet Lyon (Prison Reform Trust) and NCW President Sheila Eaton. Read the letter in the Guardian online here.

A copy of the debate on the women’s justice amendments to the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill which took place in the House of Lords in February can be found here. The key points are as follows:

    • Three amendments were tabled by Baroness Corston, Baroness Gould and Lord Ramsbotham. Each presented options to improve the oversight and accountability of women’s justice. They were:
      • An amendment to create a women’s justice board
      • An amendment to create a women’s justice commission (very similar to a board but independent of government)
      • An amendment for the government to produce a strategy on women’s justice which must report annually to parliament
    • The amendments received wide support from peers including supporting statements from Lord Bach, Labour’s shadow minister for justice, Lord Dholakia, deputy leader of the Liberal Democrats in the House of Lords, and Lord Woolf, crossbencher and former chief justice.
    • Lord McNally, responding on behalf of the government, welcomed the debate, but claimed that the government already had a strategy in place for women and accountability should remain with the minister.
    • The minister quoted from our letter to the Guardian saying he agreed entirely with the sentiment that “With clear strategic leadership and improved accountability, it should be possible to reduce offending by women and to reduce women’s prison numbers”.
    • Given the strength of feeling from peers on the issue, there may be opportunities to press the government again on the issue at the report stage of the bill, which is likely to happen in mid-March
    • Clive Chatterton, the former governor of Styal women’s prison, has written a letter to Ken Clarke the justice secretary about the need to reform women’s justice. The story was covered in the Guardian here.

NCW has just learned that that another amendment to establish a Women’s Criminal Justice Policy Unit has been tabled by Baroness Corston, Baroness Gould, Lord Ramsbotham and Lord Judd. The debate is expected in due course.