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Still no start date for royal commission

By Sam Tobin >>

(8 February 2021)

The proposed royal commission on the criminal justice system does not have a start date more than two years after it was first announced, peers have heard.

Justice minister Lord Wolfson told the House of Lords that the government still intends to hold a commission, which was announced in the Queen’s speech in December 2019, but that it has been delayed by coronavirus.

‘Due to the pandemic, we slowed work to establish the royal commission,’ he said. ‘Significant new programmes of work were established to support recovery and build back a better system. In the last six months, we have undertaken several new programmes. All our focus is on delivering these priorities over the coming months.’

Crossbench peer Lord Ramsbotham, a former chief inspector of prisons, who first inquired about timings in July 2020, said: ‘I regard it as extremely discourteous of the government to ask Her Majesty the Queen to make an announcement which they had no intention of implementing.’

Wolfson replied: ‘Since the Queen’s speech in 2019, there has been a small matter of a global pandemic, which has affected the criminal justice system very substantially.’ ‘It is a little unfair to say and, in fact, inaccurate to say that we had no intention of implementing that,’ he added.

Baroness Butler-Sloss, the former president of the family division, asked simply: ‘When is it intended to start the royal commission?’

Wolfson replied: ‘I’m afraid I can’t go any further than [what] I have already said. We are looking at it. What we want to do is make sure that we actually maintain our current programmes.’

Conservative peer Lord Forsyth, a former MP, asked how the pandemic or other work within the Ministry of Justice would have prevented the establishment of the royal commission or its operation.

Wolfson said: ‘As I understand it, the royal commission would need significant resource from the department and, indeed, the people who are working on the royal commission were deployed to other work during the pandemic and that is what they are still doing.’

He added: ‘We are still focused, in due course, [on] having a royal commission on criminal justice.’

(Courtesy: The Law Society Gazette)