Michael Gove
Michael Gove has outlined his plans to reform the judicial systemGetty

Justice Secretary Michael Gove addressed the Conservative Party Conference 2015 in Manchester on 5 October.

"I have a simple belief that guides everything I do in politics.

Every life is precious.

When I was Education Secretary, I believed that every child had the ability to succeed at something, to amaze and delight us with their creativity and potential.

Now that I am Justice Secretary, I believe that we should do everything we can to preserve innocence, to protect the vulnerable and to support victims. Because the most important human right of all is the right to live in safety and security.

I am fortunate to have a great ministerial team to support me - Mike Penning, Edward Faulks, Caroline Dinenage, Shailesh Vara, Andrew Selous, Dominic Raab, Natalie Evans, Rob Jenrick and Jackie Doyle-Price.

I am also privileged to have a superb team of civil servants at the Ministry of Justice, dedicated reformers who embody the best in public service.

Thanks to their work, to the leadership shown by my predecessors Ken Clarke and Chris Grayling - and to the bravery and idealism of Theresa May - crime is down, our streets are safer and justice is being done.

It's a record of which they can be proud.

And thanks to Ken, Chris and Theresa the needs of victims are at the heart of our criminal justice policy.

I know that for victims of crime what matters most is the swift and certain punishment of those who have brought disruption and violence into their lives.

That is why we are reforming our courts.

But while progress has been made, our criminal justice system is still blighted by inefficiencies, delays and injustices.

And what is most indefensible is that the victims of the worst crimes suffer the greatest injustice.

Women in particular are let down by our justice system.

On average, victims of rape currently have to wait almost two years before their attacker is brought to justice.

That is grotesque, unjust and has to change.

And a Conservative Government will change it.

Because we know that justice delayed is justice denied, and we also know that the rule of law is the surest protection the weak have against the aggression of the strong. It is the cement of civilisation. So we cannot allow it to crumble.

And 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.

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.

And that reputation is built on the foundation stone of our common law.

The liberties which define what is to be British - freedom of speech, freedom of association, freedom from arbitrary imprisonment - are ancient rights safeguarded over the centuries by our courts and our Parliament.

Which is why I want our courts and our Parliament strengthened to defend our ancient rights and safeguard our precious liberties.

But while we can take legitimate pride in our traditions of freedom, we should not ignore the failures in our criminal justice system.

And the biggest failure of all is the failure in our prisons.

There are many good people working to help offenders - idealistic governors, committed prison officers, chaplains and charities, volunteers and visitors. We owe them a lot.

In particular I'd like to thank the governor and staff of HMP Manchester which I had the privilege to visit yesterday - they've been in the spotlight recently - but they do an exemplary job in difficult circumstances and we are all in their debt.

But while we are forever grateful for those who work to keep us safe, we must also face the difficult facts.

On too many occasions, our prison system fails to rehabilitate, it fails to reform, it fails to ensure criminals are prevented from offending again - and again - and again.

And when criminals leave prison only to offend again then our society is less safe.

If we are to protect ourselves - and the most vulnerable in society - from brutality, from violence, from exploitation, then we need to ensure that we turn criminals away from crime.

And that means a new and unremitting emphasis in our prisons on reform, rehabilitation and redemption.

Prison should offer individuals a chance to change their lives for the better.

People like those you have already heard about this morning.

Yes, they've done some terrible things. They broke the law, they crossed the line, and no moral society can tolerate law-breaking without punishment.

But we should never define individuals by their worst moments.

None of us - none of us - would want our identity and our future determined by our worst moments.

And we should not compel those who have made mistakes to live lives forever defined by those mistakes.

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.

And as we reflect on the fate and the future of those individuals who have made terrible mistakes we should acknowledge that many will have grown up in terrible circumstances.

We know that many of those in prison have grown up in poverty, in broken homes and fatherless families.

Three quarters of young offenders in custody had an absent father.

41% of prisoners observed domestic violence as a child.

47% have no school qualifications at all - not one single GCSE.

And prisoners are twelve times more likely than the rest of the population to have been taken into care as a child.

Now, of course, many young people who grow up in tough circumstances go on to lead exemplary lives.

But their success is all the more admirable because growing up in a home where love is absent or fleeting, violence is the norm and stability a dream is a poor preparation for adult life.

We know that if children grow up in homes without moral boundaries, strong role models and someone who cares for them enough to teach them the difference between right and wrong they are more likely to make bad choices.

That is why the best criminal justice policies are good welfare, social work and child protection policies.

That is why it is so important that we support Iain Duncan Smith's work to help families out of poverty, Edward Timpson's work to help children in care and Nicky Morgan's work to get more children adopted.

We want to intervene as early as possible to help individuals make the most of their lives.

But when people do falter and fail we should also offer them a second chance.

My inspiration as I consider what our reforms to criminal justice should be is Winston Churchill.

The man who was, perhaps, our greatest Prime Minister was also a truly great Home Secretary.

He argued that there should be "a constant heart-searching by all charged with the duty of punishment, a desire and eagerness to rehabilitate and an unfaltering faith that there is a treasure, if you can only find it, in the heart of every man."

Giving every individual the chance to reflect in their heart on the wrong they have done - and to change for the better - will be at the heart of our prison reform programme.

Critical to that is recognising that we should not treat prisoners as society's liabilities who we keep warehoused - out of sight and out of mind - while they do their time. We should see them as potential assets - people who can contribute to society and put something back.

Prison should offer offenders the chance to get the skills and qualifications which they need to make a success of life on the outside. When so many come into custody illiterate and innumerate it would be a crime if we didn't get them reading and writing when they are in our care.

Far too often at the moment those sent to prison spend their sentences in pointless enforced idleness rather than purposeful and constructive activity. That has to change.

And we can reform our prisons by implementing Conservative ideas.

Giving the professionals at the front line more freedom.

Setting demanding measures to ensure public money is spent wisely.

And believing in the power of every one of us - wherever we've come from - to be a builder of better futures.

The cause of prison reform should inspire us not just because Conservative values can rescue broken lives but also because social progress has always been a Conservative cause.

We are the party that ended slavery, stopped child labour, reformed conditions in our factories, built decent homes for working people, cleared our cities of pollution, extended the vote to all women, led the fight against fascism, made millions home-owners, defeated Communism, extended educational excellence to all, introduced equal marriage, created more jobs than any other Government in history and introduced the first national living wage.

Now let us take that reforming zeal into the dark corners of our prison system and bring redemption to those who were lost.

Let us ensure our prisons are places of hard work, rigorous education and high ambition.

Let us free our prisons of drugs and violence and make them places of decency and dignity, hope and purpose.

Let us ensure - above all - that criminal justice policy serves the cause of social justice for all."