Chris grayling

Books and the justice establishment

Every politician who engages in major reform ends up with scars on their back. Tony Blair famously complained about those scars from grappling with the public sector, while Michael Gove mostly relishes his tussles with the education establishment that he likes to call the ‘Blob’. But the education world isn’t the only one with a big, scary blob wibbling about with rage whenever a minister embarks on reform. In my Telegraph column today I look at the justice ‘Blob’, which has scored a pretty impressive scar on Chris Grayling with a campaign about a ban on books for prisoners which isn’t quite as it seems. Books are a useful weapon

Would prisoners kill for Carol Ann Duffy?

It is of course shocking that the Justice Secretary Chris Grayling should ban prisoners from receiving books sent by their friends and relatives. We might all agree with author Philip Pullman who said that the ban is worthy of Hitler and Pol Pot and entirely typical of a government whose most senior members regularly eat their own offspring, raw, tearing away at the flesh like crazed wolverines. Or something like that, anyway. Various other authors have ranted and raved. But will it make a huge difference to the lives of the inmates? Do they often importune family members with these sort of requests: ‘I see that Carol Ann Duffy has a

Take it from an ex-con — the outrage over prison books is misplaced

When I was doing my time in HMP Standford Hill, a strange pair of heavily perfumed Korans and Bibles were delivered to one inmate, ostensibly to help him with his ‘studies in comparative religion’. As intended, the perfume threw the sniffer dogs off the scent. But a suspicious prison officer found a significant quantity of heroin stuck between the pages of these holy books. This was an example of ‘parcelling it,’ con-speak for getting drugs into jails. So Chris Grayling, the Justice Secretary, has a point now that he is trying to restrict the supply of books into prisons. But not much of a point: such examples are real but

Viviane Reding’s next trick

Viviane Reding is a bit of a favourite among UK ministers. The European Commissioner for Justice has a knack of making such a good case for reform of Europe with her interviews and policies that Conservatives – and indeed Ukippers – are quite content for her to intervene as often as possible. This week, she’s got another cunning plan that eloquently makes the case for reform of Europe – and ministers will be standing up to her again. Reding is expected to publish the second annual EU Justice Scoreboard on Monday:  it’s a league table of all the EU member states’ justice systems. At first glance, this sounds like a

A prenup undermines a marriage before it has even begun

A friend of mine, quite a distinguished lawyer, takes the view that marriage ceased to make sense after no-fault divorces came in. What, he says sternly, is the point of a contract when there’s no sanction if you break it? Well, quite. But if no-fault divorce pretty well invalidates marriage after the event, prenups do quite a good job of undermining it beforehand. The point of marriage is that it’s meant to be a lifetime affair – the hint being in the ‘til death do us part’ bit – and the point of prenups is that they make provision for the thing ending before it even gets underway. You’re putting

MPs back smoking ban – but Justice Secretary opposes ‘unenforceable’ law

So is the ban on smoking in cars with children, backed by MPs this evening by 376 votes to 107 against, a good idea? As James observed earlier, it is fascinating to see how quickly opinions have shifted even in the past few weeks. The PA division lists have 100 Conservative MPs voting against, and only four Liberal Democrats opposing a ban that their own leader described as ‘illiberal’. But it is worth reflecting that the Cabinet ministers who voted against it included Theresa May and Chris Grayling (the others were Iain Duncan Smith and Theresa Villiers). Grayling was voting reluctantly on the basis that the ban was unenforceable. Which given

James Forsyth

Could smoking around children be made illegal in the near future?

The most remarkable thing about the ban on smoking in cars when children are present, which will pass the Commons later today, is how quickly minds have changed. There’ll be ministers and MPs voting for it today who were dismissing it as absurd nanny-statism just a week ago. What has happened is that MPs, particularly Tory and Lib Dem ones who have a genuinely free vote on the matter, have reflected on how far the state already restricts liberty when it comes to smoking. Once you have decided to ban smoking in pubs, where adults go voluntarily, and even private members clubs, then it is very hard to defend allowing

The criminal bar is revolting

Something peculiar is happening at criminal courts across England and Wales this morning. Barristers from are staging an unprecedented walk out in protest at Justice Secretary Chris Grayling’s plan to trim a further £220 million from the Legal Aid budget. Barristers in wigs and gowns are protesting at at Westminster Magistrates’ Court and at Crown Courts including the Old Bailey. Since 2010 the Ministry of Justice’s budget has been cut by £1.3 billion, with a further £148 million to be cut over the rest of the parliament. The government asserts that the Legal Aid bill is too high. Since the coalition took power, the bill has reduced by £264 million

Chris Grayling plays Scrooge

Chris Grayling is a nasty piece of work, isn’t he? To wit: [N]ew rules, which forbid prisoners from receiving any items in the post unless there are exceptional circumstances, were introduced in November as part of the government’s changes to the Incentives and Earned Privileges (IEP) scheme. Under the rules, families are prevented from sending in basic items of stationery such as cards, paper or pens to help people in prison keep in touch with their friends and families and wish them a happy Christmas. They are also prevented from sending books and magazines or additional warm clothes and underwear to the prison. Almost no-one cares about prisoners, of course,

Dave spices up the ‘Curry Oscars’

You know how it is, you pop out for curry and a pint, and you end up pledging to soften Britain’s immigration rules live in front of a global TV audience of millions. Speaking at the packed British Curry Awards in Battersea on Monday night, David Cameron told a thousand restaurateurs: ‘Like any industry this one faces its own specific challenges and I know that there have been questions on immigration and getting chefs with the necessary experience. So let me promise you this, we will work through this together. We’ll continue to help you get the skilled Asian chefs you need.’ Interpreting this concrete pledge, the agency wires reported this as a

Chris Grayling gets a relatively easy ride over reoffending rates

Theresa May accepted her Spectator Politician of the Year award with the quip: ‘It used to be a joke that I lock them up and Ken Clarke lets them out, now they say I lock them up and Chris Grayling throws away the key.’ The right wing press, as Ken Clarke is given to calling it, is much enamoured with Grayling and May. ConservativeHome’s Mark Wallace describes them as the ‘dynamic duo’, and writes a long appreciation of their ‘increasingly strong message on crime’. There is, of course, as Wallace concedes, more to governing than messages. The Mail on Sunday carries a small item about reoffending rates under the headline ‘scandal of

We need a British Bill of Rights – so we can hear less from the likes of Keir Starmer

In his five years as Director of Public Prosecutions, Keir Starmer  has shown a striking appetite for (self-) publicity and given the job a higher profile than ever. He’s just informed the world, from Andrew Marr’s sofa, that he’s opposed to plans by the Justice Secretary, Chris Grayling, to tear up the egregious Human Rights Act which is playing havoc with the English justice system. I can see why he’s alarmed: the confusion caused by superimposing European law on English law gives huge power to people, like him, who adjudicate. It has encouraged, in England, the emergence of American-style judicial activism. And the confusion elevates people who should be legal technocrats,

Could Britain quitting the ECHR persuade the Tories to stay in the EU?

David Cameron’s willingness to talk about Britain pulling out of the European Court of Human Rights while refusing to give details of what he wants back in an EU renegotiation is telling. All Cameron would say on Marr this morning about the EU renegotiation, is that he wants Britain to be exempted from ‘ever closer union’—a largely linguistic ask that, I suspect, the rest of the EU will be prepared to agree to. By contrast, he was prepared to go into far more detail about how he might change Britain’s relationship with the Strasbourg Court. listen to ‘Cameron: ‘Ever closer union is not what I want’’ on Audioboo

We must revisit the Equality Act to stop vexatious court cases

What have the Churchill £5 note, the Home Office ‘racist vans’ and the ‘Bedroom Tax’ got in common? All were alleged breaches of section 149 of the Equality Act 2010, which provides that public authorities are under a duty to have ‘due regard’ to preventing discrimination and advancing equality. Dropping Elizabeth Fry from banknotes was said to be a breach of s149 by the campaign to bring a judicial review. They quickly secured the £10 note for Jane Austen. But as litigants, they would have been in good company. Section 149 was used by the Fawcett Society to challenge the 2010 Budget’s impact on women. It was also the legal

Tory MPs see gains on justice and home affairs opt-outs

Justice and Home Affairs ministers have spent a muggy afternoon in the Commons slogging through several hours of tetchy questions from backbenchers about the government’s plan to opt out of European Union justice and home affairs measures, before opting back in to the ones the government has decided it likes. It’s at times like this that anyone other than Theresa May, who spent a considerable amount of time hopping up and down to take endless interventions from her own Tory colleagues, would start to wonder whether the party leadership really was a prize worth working so hard for, given the amount of reassurance MPs need on just one policy area.

Harry Mount is wrong: Chris Grayling’s legal aid reforms will damage justice

I just wonder how long Harry Mount has been waiting to put his boot into the Bar. Having a first-class degree from Oxford, membership of the Bullingdon Club and then getting a pupillage in a top class set of chambers, it must have been devastating to his well-nurtured ego to have been turned down for a tenancy. His piece in this week’s Spectator was a masterpiece of bitterness and bile. It was a travesty of what is really happening. There are no fat fees at the criminal Bar. Far from spiralling out of control the criminal legal aid budget has been cut by a third from 2006/7 and fees  between

Isabel Hardman

European Commission does eurosceptics’ dirty work, again.

Defenders of the status quo in the European Union like to argue that 3 million jobs in this country currently depend on Britain’s membership. Aside from the rather shaky maths behind that figure, it’s striking that today Chris Grayling is making a stand on a Brussels plan that will cost jobs in this country, rather than boost them. The Sunday Telegraph reports the Justice Secretary accusing the European Commission of ‘not living in the real world’, with new data protection laws threatening to cost british businesses around £360 million a year. Grayling makes it very clear in his interview with the newspaper that he views these proposals as a direct

Take it from a former barrister: Chris Grayling is right to reform legal aid

Shakespeare took it a little far in Henry IV, Part II, when Dick the Butcher said, ‘Let’s kill all the lawyers.’ Chris Grayling hasn’t made the same proposal but you could be forgiven for thinking otherwise, listening to the howls of anguish and indignation coming from the Inns of Court. Grayling, the first non-lawyer to be made Lord Chancellor since the 17th century, has simply said he wants to make some savings in the legal aid bill. To the lawyers, unaccustomed to having their privileges and subsidies challenged by anyone, this means war. Already, 90 millionaire QCs — poor, impoverished Cherie Blair among them — have written a letter to

Ministers aren’t just preparing for Coalition divorce, they’re organising arguments with their partners too

Reports today that the Conservatives are wargaming end-of-Coalition scenarios in the event of the Lib Dems leaving early won’t come as a surprise, given the bickering over the past few weeks on snooping, childcare and Europe. But in the interim, ministers are also trying to work out how both parties can practise a sensible differentiation policy without appearing to squabble endlessly for another two years. Nick Clegg spoke about the need for sausage machine government before Christmas, with a call for honesty about the difference between the two parties on policies as they were being developed. He has annoyed Theresa May something rotten by sticking to that principle on the

Steerpike: Begging with the archbishop, dining with rebels, and playing Shakespeare

Begging bowls are out at Canterbury cathedral. Anglicanism’s principal shrine is in danger of toppling over if its custodians can’t raise an emergency fund of £17.8 million needed to shore up the nave, two wobbly towers and Christchurch Gate. A bid for £10.2 million to save the cathedral from the forces of gravity has just been rejected by the Heritage Lottery Fund. Canons may even shut the cathedral to worshippers while they finalise a last-ditch scheme to cadge the dough from US philanthropists. Failing that, they could try flogging the old ruin to the Emir of Qatar. He seems to own everything else these days.   Chris Grayling, affectionately known as ‘Uncle