“The canteen culture language of empowering officers ‘to go after thugs’ is unlikely to encourage responsible policing.”
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Marc Bloomfield
Many criminal lawyers practising in 2019 qualified after some of the most contentious and difficult episodes in criminal justice history. Indeed, we were inspired to become lawyers by the fight against those injustices such as the campaigns for the Guildford Four and the Birmingham Six. We read the history of the ‘sus’ laws, the targeting of black and Asian people by an unaccountable police force and the build-up to the 1981 riots. We supported campaigns against police brutality and lies at Hillsborough and Orgreave. Don’t get me wrong, injustice still occurred with sickening regularity – deaths in custody, the shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes, or the climate for Muslim communities post-9/11 to give but three examples. Surely, though, we were winning some battles: the incorporation of the European Convention on Human Rights and the Macpherson Report1The Stephen Lawrence Inquiry: report of an inquiry by Sir William Macpherson of Cluny, Cm 4262-I, Home Office, February 1999. showed real progress towards a just and fair system.
The battlefront has moved to funding. No system can be truly fair if hard-won rights cannot be accessed because a case is not properly funded. As cut after cut takes hold, perhaps we really have lost that war. Does anyone working in criminal law truly believe the system is not broken? That we don’t already have a two-tier, US-style justice system?
And now, to add to this, we have the pronouncements on the criminal justice system from the new Boris Johnson-led government. It is a wonder that any criminal lawyer can sleep at night. Time was, the British government sought to persuade the world of the merits of abolishing the death penalty. But our new home secretary has previously expressed support for its reintroduction in the UK (and cannot even be straight about those views – she would last about two minutes in court before previous inconsistent statements would be introduced). The hard-right rhetoric may not yet be of sufficient pitch to make the killing of convicted criminals an open policy objective, but Priti Patel does want (presumably suspected) criminals to ‘feel terror’ on the streets.2Jack Doyle, ‘I want criminals to be terrified, says Priti Patel: New Home Secretary vows to return to zero-tolerance policing as she demands full explanation over bungled “Nick” sex abuse inquiry’, Daily Mail, 2 August 2019.
Where to begin with such crass irresponsibility? First, words matter because leadership matters. The canteen culture language of empowering officers 'to go after thugs’ is unlikely to encourage responsible, accountable and proportionate policing. Second, what flows are illiberal, ill-thought-out and irrational polices. The prime minister promises £2.5bn for extra prison places and to make it easier to implement s60 orders3Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 s60. (the new powers will be extended across England and Wales before a pilot project that began earlier this year4Greater powers for police to use stop and search to tackle violent crime’, Home Office news story, 31 March 2019. has reported).5PM to create 10,000 new prison places and extend stop-and-search’, BBC News, 11 August 2019. When such an order is in place, officers do not need reasonable suspicion to conduct a search. Safeguards such as needing a superintendent’s authority and believing that violence will occur have been downgraded to inspector authority and the belief that violence may occur.
Already, black people are nearly 10 times as likely to be stopped as white people. It is said that the relaxation is required because of the increase in violent crime, but stop-and-search is primarily used in drug searches. A study of stop-and-search over a decade in London by the College of Policing found it to be ‘inconsistent’ and ‘weak’ as a deterrent.6Does more stop and search mean less crime? Analysis of Metropolitan Police Service panel data, 2004–14, College of Policing, 2017.
This is an attempt to return to ‘zero-tolerance’ policing, a strategy that involves a relentless law and order focus and aggressive enforcement against even minor crimes and incivilities. Also referred to as ‘broken windows’ policing,7See, for example, ‘What “broken windows” policing is’, The Economist, 27 January 2015. it was pioneered in New York in the 1990s. There is limited evidence that it actually helps reduce crime and plenty of concern that it targets and alienates minorities.8Bringing a sorry chapter in policing to an end’, New York Times, 25 January 2017.
There is no point worrying about broken windows when austerity has already destroyed the building. We are paying the price for closed youth clubs and the destruction of local government services. We must fight to preserve the rule of law with what funding we have left, and fight for our clients with all that we can muster.
 
3     Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 s60. »
4     Greater powers for police to use stop and search to tackle violent crime’, Home Office news story, 31 March 2019. »
5     PM to create 10,000 new prison places and extend stop-and-search’, BBC News, 11 August 2019. »
7     See, for example, ‘What “broken windows” policing is’, The Economist, 27 January 2015. »
8     Bringing a sorry chapter in policing to an end’, New York Times, 25 January 2017. »

About the author(s)

Description: Raj Chada - author
Raj Chada is the Head of the Criminal Department at Hodge Jones & Allen.