Crime & Policing

The Coalition’s report card on crime and policing is, on the face of it, pretty good: crime rates in England and Wales are down by 8.4per cent (2011-2012); no u-turns (yet); and Theresa May has successfully weathered a few PR storms leaving her, and her department relatively unscathed. Indeed, when reviewing the Coalition’s nineteen pledges relating to crime and policing, it would appear that good progress has been made. However, dig a little deeper and the weak mandate of the newly elected Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs); cuts to the frontline police force; a possible u-turn on alcohol pricing; and the faltering attempt to deport Abu Qatada serve to cast a cloud over the Coalition’s drive for a fairer, more accountable criminal justice system.

Looking to the new directly-elected PCCs, this flagship policy was designed to drive the Coalition’s ambition to reconnect police and public. However, a record low turnout has done little to inspire public confidence in the new officials, with only 15 per cent of the electorate casting a vote and 90 per cent of voters admitting they (still) have no idea who their local PCC is. With the Electoral Commission criticising the Government for  believing that  holding elections alone would be enough to inspire people to vote, and a final bill of £75 million, the elections have been branded a ‘communications disaster’. Since the next PCC election is scheduled for 2016, the PM will not have a second chance to get it right ahead of the 2015 General Election.

The loss of over 6,800 frontline police jobs (11,500 jobs in total) since 2010 has inevitably grabbed the headlines, and in spite of Home Office calls for cuts to focus on middle and back office staff, there has been a 6 per cent reduction in frontline policing across England and Wales. Claims that cuts to the frontline would lead to an explosion in crime have been confounded with the decline in crime rates actually accelerating. But with the controversial Winsor Review recommendations on police pay and working conditions still being deliberated by the Home Office, and further cuts expected as part of the next spending review, the police force is by no means out of the firing line.

Alcohol pricing gave the Government its latest headache, with a possible u-turn on the 45p minimum unit price leading to accusations of ‘weak leadership’ from Number 10, and so, in turn, fuelling rumours of a challenge to David Cameron’s position as party leader. The Government’s indecision on this is perhaps not surprising – whilst the policy has gained public momentum in recent months, it has never been a natural fit for the Tories or the Lib Dems. Whilst dropping it will give the Opposition yet another u-turn to run with, the Coalition may win some support from those who consume alcohol in moderation who would have inevitably been negatively impacted by this policy.

Looking ahead, the Crime and Courts Bill will enable the Coalition to bring in the Tony Wright style self-defence law which should play well to middle England and give David Cameron a much needed, and well-timed, boost in the polls. Abu Qatada remains a thorn in the side of the Home Secretary, and it is likely that the extradition/deportation debate will rumble on. Perhaps the biggest challenge for Theresa May will be weathering the next round of spending cuts; in spite of her protestations (echoed by other Tory Ministers) for cuts to be made to the welfare budget instead, Danny Alexander appears determined that the Home Office, and the Ministry of Defence, will share the pain of the £11.5 billion of cuts due in 2015-16.

CRI

Progress against the Coalition Agreement

Pledge: We will reduce time-wasting bureaucracy that hampers police operations, and introduce better technology to make policing more effective while saving taxpayers’ money.

Status: In progress – Stop and Account forms have been abolished and the amount of information recorded for each stop-and-search has been reduced. Police prosecution powers for certain low-level offences have been simplified and extended. The Police ICT Company was incorporated in 2012, but is not yet fully operational. Police have also been equipped with BlackBerrys and personal data assistants, but a National Audit Office report suggests that value for money from the expenditure has not yet been achieved.

Pledge: We will amend the health and safety laws that stand in the way of common sense policing.

Status: In progress - Health and safety laws have not been amended. Instead, the Coalition published ‘Common Sense, Common Safety’ in 2010, which stated that ‘Police officers should not be at risk of investigation or prosecution under health and safety legislation when engaged in the course of their duties if they have to put themselves at risk as a result of committing a heroic act’.

Pledge: We will seek to spread information on which policing techniques and sentences are most effective at cutting crime across the Criminal Justice System.

Status: Donewww.police.uk was launched in 2011. Information about what action police took in response to local crimes, and justice outcomes including sentencing information, was added to the site in May 2012.

Pledge: We will have a full review of the terms and conditions for police officer employment.

Status: Done – In October 2010, Theresa May appointed Tom Winsor to lead an Independent Review of Police Officers’ and Staff Remuneration and Conditions. Recommendations made in Part 1 of the Winsor Report have been implemented. Part 2 is currently out for public consultation.

Pledge: We will introduce measures to make the police more accountable through oversight by a directly elected individual, who will be subject to strict checks and balances by locally elected representatives.

Status: Done – Elections for Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs) were held in November 2012. 41 PCCs were elected, replacing Police Authorities. A record low turnout of just 15 per cent has led some commentators to brand this  initiative a failure.

Pledge: We will oblige the police to publish detailed local crime data statistics every month, so the public can get proper information about crime in their neighbourhoods and hold the police to account for their performance.

Status: Done – National Crime Maps were published online in February 2011. A function that allows users to personalise maps was launched in February 2013.

Pledge: We will require police forces to hold regular ‘beat meetings’ so that residents can hold them to account.

Status: Done – Chapter 5, Section 34 (3) of the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011 requires police forces to hold regular ‘beat meetings’.

Pledge: We will make hospitals share non-confidential information with the police so they know where gun and knife crime is happening and can target stop-and-search in gun and knife crime hot spots.

Status: In progress – Hospitals are obliged to share violent crime data with police as part of Community Safety Partnerships. However, an audit by the Department of Health in January 2013 showed that it is happening effectively in only a third of community safety partnership areas, and not at all in one-fifth. In response, Health Minister Anna Soubry wrote to all hospital chief executives and chief constables in England to remind them of the Government’s commitment on sharing information.

Pledge: We will give people greater legal protection to prevent crime and apprehend criminals.

Status: In progress – Greater protections were brought into law through the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012. Further protection is to be provided through the Crime and Courts Bill.

Pledge: We will ensure that people have the protection that they need when they defend themselves against intruders.

Status: In progress – A Tony Martin style ‘self-defence’ law was heavily trailed by the Government, but was not included in the 2011 Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act. The Government is now proposing to legislate via the Crime and Courts Bill to introduce a new ‘grossly disproportionate’ test (replacing the controversial ‘reasonable force’ test) in relation to cases involving householders who use force to defend themselves or others against intruders.

Pledge: We will ban the sale of alcohol below cost price.

Status: Not achieved – Following a consultation on the Government’s alcohol strategy, including a 45p minimum unit price for alcohol, Conservative ministers are publically split as to the merits of minimum-pricing. Theresa May, Michael Gove and Andrew Lansley are openly set against the plans, leading to reports of a humiliating climb-down on the cards for David Cameron. The Home Office is currently reviewing responses to the consultation, but drinks companies say they have already been told that the plans will not go ahead.

Pledge: We will review alcohol taxation and pricing to ensure it tackles binge drinking without unfairly penalising responsible drinkers, pubs and important local industries.

Status: Done – The Review of Alcohol Taxation was published in November 2010.

Pledge: We will overhaul the Licensing Act to give local authorities and the police much stronger powers to remove licences from, or refuse to grant licences to, any premises that are causing problems.

Status: Done - The Government has reformed licensing laws, making it easier to tackle problem premises. The Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act (2011) amended section 169A(2)(a) and (4) of the Licensing Act (2003) to extend the duration of a closure notice (prohibiting the sale of alcohol from premises) so that it ranges from 48 hours to a maximum period of 336 hours (14 days).

Pledge: We will allow councils and the police to shut down permanently any shop or bar found to be persistently selling alcohol to children.

Status: Done – The Licensing Act 2003 (Persistent Selling of Alcohol to Children) (Prescribed Form of Closure Notice) Regulations 2012, came into force on 25 April 2012.

Pledge: We will double the maximum fine for under-age alcohol sales to £20,000.

Status: Done – On 25 April 2012, under section 147A(8) of the 2003 Licensing Act, the maximum fine for the offence of persistently selling alcohol to children was increased from £10,000 to £20,000. Changes to the Licensing Act (2003) were made by the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act (2011).

Pledge - We will permit local councils to charge more for late-night licenses to pay for additional policing.

Status: Done – Chapter 2 of the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act (2011) introduces the late night levy. The levy allows local councils to charge businesses that supply alcohol late into the night for the extra enforcement costs. 

Pledge: We will promote better recording of hate crimes against disabled, homosexual and transgender people, which are frequently not centrally recorded.

Status: In progress – The then Equalities Minister, Lynne Featherstone, published the Government’s strategy to tackle hate crime in March 2012.

Pledge: We will introduce a system of temporary bans on new ‘legal highs’ while health issues are considered by independent experts. We will not permanently ban a substance without receiving advice from the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs.

Status: Done - Temporary Class Drug Orders (TCDOs) have been introduced, which ban newly identified harmful drugs. An order can last for up to 12 months and is implemented following initial advice from the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, and remains in place while the Advisory Council’s full report on the substance is prepared.

However, a report from the Home Office Select Committee published in December 2012, questions the efficacy of the new system stating that the TCDOs ‘drive the supply of new drugs underground’ and banning one drug ‘can make the situation worse by stimulating the production of yet more new, unknown and potentially dangerous substances’.

Pledge: We will review the operation of the Extradition Act – and the US/UK extradition treaty – to make sure it is even-handed.

Status: Done – Theresa May launched a review of the Extradition Act in September 2010. The review, led by the former Court of Appeal judge Sir Scott Baker, reported back in October 2011, stating that the treaty “does not operate in an unbalanced manner”. Following the high profile cases of Gary McKinnon and Chris Tappin, David Cameron announced in February 2012 that the Home Secretary would conduct a second ‘proper, sober, thoughtful’ review of the Treaty.