Fresh doubt has been cast on whether the Royal Commission announced last December to review and improve efficiency in the criminal justice system will begin its work.

The government was pressed for an update on the commission in the House of Lords yesterday.

Four months after asking the government when the commission’s chair, timings and terms of reference will be announced, crossbench peer Lord Ramsbotham (David Ramsbotham, a former chief inspector of prisons) asked the same questions again in the Lords chamber yesterday.

When Lord Ramsbotham asked about the commission in July, it emerged that the commission may not report until 2022.

Answering for the government, Baroness Scott of Bybrook said the government remained committed to establishing the commission. ‘It has been necessary to prioritise responding to the immediate impact of Covid-19 on the criminal justice system, to ensure that it continues to operate effectively during the pandemic. It is important to learn lessons and use this experience when considering the remit, membership and timing of the royal commission in this context. We will update the house in due course,’ she said.

Baroness Scott said a budget has been allocated for the commission’s work, a team of officials has been formed and work ‘is underway’ on developing the terms of reference and the options for the chairs and commissioners.

The Lord Bishop of Durham (Paul Roger Butler) asked if the commission will consider issues around short sentences and alternatives to custodial sentences. Lord Farmer asked if the terms of reference will explicity include the importance of prisoners’ and offenders’ family and other significant relational ties to prevent reoffending.

Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames (Jonathan Marks QC), justice spokesperson for the Liberal Democrats, said the commission must be ‘utterly dedicated’ to tackling inequalities at every stage of the criminal justice process including stop and search, arrest, charging decisions, trial and sentence.

Shadow justice spokesperson Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede (Frederick Ponsonby) asked if the review will look at the large number of cases that never get into the courts system.

Conservative peer Lord Herbert of South Downs (Nick Herbert) wanted assurance that the commission will look at innovative, new procedures, and the use of technology to ensure justice can be delivered in a timely manner.