Edward Argar was yesterday announced as the 9th different prison minister since January 2018. Indeed the job has changed hands 5 times since September 2021. This constant change may be one of the factors contributing to the fact that our prison population is at record high levels. Mr Argar’s predecessor, Damian Hinds, has moved to the Department for Education and Gareth Bacon and Laura Farris have joined the Petty France team. Here are my usual brief biographies of the new ministerial team at Petty France.
Alex Chalk – Justice Secretary
Alex Chalk KC MP has been the Member of Parliament for Cheltenham since 2015. He was appointed as Minister of State in the Ministry of Defence in October 2022 and was formerly HM Solicitor General for England and Wales and the Prisons and Probation Minister.
Prior to being elected in 2015, Alex was a barrister and prosecuted and defended in cases concerning terrorism, international fraud, and homicide.
As Justice Minister, Alex led the Domestic Abuse Bill through the Commons. For the first time in history, the Bill includes a wide-ranging legal definition of domestic abuse which incorporates a range of abuses beyond physical violence, including emotional, coercive or controlling behaviour, and economic abuse.
During his time as Prisons Minister, Alex announced a new scheme to provide temporary, basic accommodation to prison leavers for twelve weeks as well as overhauling the unpaid work that offenders are ordered to do as part of community service.
Edward Argar – Minister of State
Born in 1977, and originally from Kent, Mr Argar attended his local state grammar school before studying for a history degree at Oriel College, Oxford. Both his parents were teachers, his mother originally from a farming family and his father from an army family.
After university he moved to London and spent four years working as a Political Adviser to the then Shadow Foreign Secretary focusing on Middle East policy and travelling extensively in the region. After that, he spent almost a decade working for private sector businesses including Hedra, Serco and Mouchel in management consultancy and communications jobs
Mr Argar has been the MP for Charnwood since 2015.
He was Minister of State at the Department of Health and Social Care between 10 September 2019 and 6 July 2022. He was previously Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Ministry of Justice between 14 June 2018 and 10 September 2019.
Until this week’s re-shuffle, he was responsible for victims & courts but he has now got the key brief of prisons and probation with the revamped title of “Minister for Prisons, Parole and Probation”. His full responsibilities are:
- Prison operations, policy, reform and industrial relations
- Probation policy and operations
- Youth justice
- Offender health
- Offender Cohorts
- Home Detention Curfew (HDC)
- Release on Temporary Licence (ROTL) schemes
- Reducing reoffending
- Female offenders
- Foreign National Offenders
Mike Freer – Parliamentary Under Secretary of State
Mr Freer spent most of his career in retail banking for Barclays Bank plc as well as some time with Deloitte & Touche as a management consultant before becoming MP for Finchley and Golders Green in 2010. He was appointed to the Government Whips Office in 2017 and became Minister for Exports at the Department for International Trade, alongside a role as Minister for Equalities in 2021 – holding both roles until July 2022.
He remains responsible for:
- Promotion of legal services
- Crown Dependencies
- Lead on cross-cutting CJS issues
- Criminal law and Criminal court recovery (including legal aid)
- HMCTS administration including fees
- Court and Tribunal reform programme delivery
- Court and Tribunal transparency
- Commons shadow for Lord Bellamy
- Office of the Public Guardian (OPG)
- Mental capacity
- Coroners and death management
- Racial disparity
- Cross cutting corporate decisions
Gareth Bacon – Parliamentary Under Secretary of State
Mr Bacon (born in 1972) worked as head of the public sector division of Martin Ward Anderson (a specialist financial services recruitment company) from 2004 to 2012 He was a member of the London Assembly from 2008 – 2021 and has been the MP for Orpington since 2019. He is the new Minister for sentencing. His responsibilities are:
Minister for Sentencing
- Sentencing Policy
- Sentencing Bill
- Illegal Migration
- Electronic monitoring
- PECS (Prisoner Escort & Custody Service)
Laura Farris – Parliamentary Under Secretary of State
Ms Farris worked as a journalist for BBC and Reuters and also worked for Hillary Clinton when she was a United States Senator for New York. She qualified as a barrister in 2007, practising mainly in employment law. Farris was appointed to the panel of counsel operated by the Equality and Human Rights Commission in 2015 and has been the MP for Newbury since 2019. She is the new Minister for victims and violence against women and girls. Her responsibilities are:
Minister for Victims and Violence against Women and Girls
- Victims and Witnesses
- Rape and Serious Sexual Offences (RASSO)
- Violence against Women and Girls (VAWG)
- Criminal Law
- Child Sexual Abuse
- Miscarriages of Justice
- The Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority
Lord Christopher Bellamy QC, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State
Sir Christopher Bellamy is a barrister who originally specialised in European, competition and regulatory law, and became a QC in 1986. In 1992 he was appointed as a judge to (what is now) the General Court of the European Union where he served for seven years. At the end of 1999 he returned to the UK to set up (what is now) the Competition Appeal Tribunal (CAT), of which he was President until 2007. In 2007 Sir Christopher retired from the CAT and became a senior consultant with Linklaters LLP, and Chairman of the Linklaters Global Competition Practice in 2011. He stepped down from Linklaters at the end of October 2020, and rejoined Monckton Chambers.
His responsibilities are:
- MoJ business in the House of Lords (excluding Criminal Legal Aid)
- EU Retained Law policy
- Private International Law
- Legal Aid – (ex criminal)
- Human Rights
- Judicial Review
- Devolution and the Union
- Judicial Policy
- Civil Justice
- Modern Justice System: Legal Support; Dispute Resolution
- Tribunals Policy
- Court Recovery – Civil, Family, Tribunal
- Family Justice and Marriage and Divorce
- HMCTS admin and performance in FT
- Illegal Migration (Lords)