Michael Gove has cited prison reform as a key priority at the Ministry of Justice in his first Conservative party conference speech since becoming justice secretary.

In a short address in Manchester today, Gove made no mention of human rights reform, legal aid or civil justice, but instead focused largely on the rehabilitation of offenders.

Gove did however reaffirm his commitment to reforming the courts and to changing a criminal justice system ‘blighted’ by injustices. And he sent a positive message to members of the legal profession, as he called on them to join him in supporting reform of the courts.

‘No one wants reform more than those who live and breathe the law – the judges, the lawyers and court staff whose vocation is justice and whom we should thank for their work,’ he said.

‘They help ensure that Britain is the country the world wants to come to, to settle its disputes. We have an unparalleled global reputation as the home of honesty, due process and fairness.’

Gove devoted much of his allocated time to hearing from a reformed offender and a business leader who employs ex-offenders. He said the government should not ignore failures in the criminal justice system, the biggest of which is the way that inmates are treated.

‘We should never define individuals by their worst moments,’ he said. ‘Committing an offence should not mean that society always sees you as an offender. Because that means we deny individuals the chance to improve their lives, provide for their families and give back to their communities.’

Gove pledged to give professionals on the frontline more freedom and to set ‘demanding’ measures to ensure public money is spent wisely.

‘Let us take that reforming zeal into the dark corners of our prison system and bring redemption to those who were lost,’ he added.