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20 July 2016

Cabinet audit: what does the appointment of Liz Truss as Justice Secretary mean for policy?

The political and policy-based implications of the new Secretary of State for Justice.

By Helen Lewis

After alienating thousands of teachers with a sweeping programme of reform, Michael Gove found a different reception when he tried to overhaul Britain’s creaking prisons system as Justice Secretary. The sector largely welcomed his moves to give governors more control of their budgets, and most hope that Liz Truss will see through his plans (announced in this year’s Queen’s Speech). She will also need to defend her department against cuts. Many of the problems on the prison estate – staff shortages; lack of training and education opportunities; curbing the use of drugs and outbreaks of violence; returning freed prisoners to the outside world with no savings or home to go to – require just one thing: more money.

At the Department for Education, Gove trusted Truss – he called her his “hand grenade”. A sector which has just adjusted to big reforms will hope that she does not abandon his legacy. She has a similar advantage to the one she enjoyed at Defra: it is a department that largely escapes public scrutiny (except when things go exceptionally wrong). She should use it to look seriously at how the probation system was undermined by Gove’s predecessor as Justice Secretary, Chris Grayling, and the over-eager use of recalls “for public protection”.

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