The Justice Committee is unique amongst its peers. I have the experience to manage this extensive and intricate workload
With me as chair, the Justice Committee would continue to hold decision makers to account, and encourage informed public debate, writes Bob Neill MP
With their growing public recognition and reach, select committees often showcase Parliament at its best. Away from the at times combative and febrile atmosphere of the Chamber, the committee corridor can offer a refreshing oasis of consensual, cross-party working, where records of achievement are robustly scrutinised and recommendations are put forward based on the hard evidence received.
It has been a great privilege to chair the justice committee since 2015 and I am immensely proud of what we have achieved during that time. We have been incredibly active, publishing 22 reports in the last Parliament on everything from prison safety, courts reform, bailiffs and the enforcement of debt, legal aid and the disclosure of evidence in criminal cases. All of these have been well received and have made a real impact upon policy. We have achieved a series of considerable wins, not least the announced probation system changes following our 2018 recommendations.
We have achieved a series of considerable wins, not least the announced probation system changes following our 2018 recommendations.
The remit of the committee covers the Ministry of Justice and associated public bodies like HM Prison and Probation Service, as well as the Attorney General’s Office and the bodies it superintends, like the CPS and the Serious Fraud Office. It has an additional unique role as a statutory consultee to the Sentencing Guidelines, upon which previous Committees have regularly reported to the House.
The policies it scrutinises are therefore both important and complex. Having had a fulltime career for over 25 years as a criminal barrister, both prosecuting and defending, it is an area I know intricately and care about deeply. I believe this, my considerable experience on the committee, and my experience in government allows me to achieve the maximum impact for the committee’s work, engaging positively with stakeholders outside of Parliament too, with many of whom I have developed a good working relationship.
I firmly believe that committees are at their most effective when managed in a genuinely non-partisan, non-grandstanding manner. As chair, I will work to deliver robust and independent scrutiny, based firmly upon evidence, fully involving all committee members. I hope I have gained a reputation for being open, constructive, fair-minded and collegiate, reflected in the nominations I have received from across the House and from members of the last Parliament’s Committee.
The justice sector now faces a number of challenges and opportunities, including pressures on our prison system, proposed judicial reform, access to justice and the impact of Brexit, particularly on the operation of the legal system and the legal services sector. The committee will benefit from an experienced chair who can manage this significant workload and hit the ground running.
I am keen to explore new ways of running our inquiries and gathering evidence to broaden the range of people and organisations we hear from. That includes looking to hold committee meetings and visits outside London and receiving video evidence for those who have difficulty travelling to see us. I welcome feedback from colleagues on how we can improve our work and my door will always be open.
If re-elected, my commitment is to steer the committee in a direction that holds decision makers to account, scrutinises and influences government policy and encourages informed public debate. That demands commitment and a genuinely cross-party, team approach, as well as proper engagement with those working day in, day out in the sector.
Bob Neill is Conservative MP for Bromley and Chislehurst
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