Annual Policy Review 2015


Crime and justice

Crime and Justice


1AchievedAchieved

  • Privatisation of the probation service to tackle reoffending rates
  • More stringent measures for violent offenders within prisons
  • Agreement to allow limited access to the UK’s DNA data by European police
  • £85m Secure College to be built to educate young offenders
  • Tabling of the Modern Slavery Bill


1More-to-doMore to do

  • Appointment of the Chair of the Government’s child sex abuse inquiry after two resignations
  • Win round the legal community on the effects of legal aid cuts
  • Improve standing of Police and Crime Commissioners with the general public


1UnexpectedThe unexpected

  • Challenge in finding a suitable Chair for the child sex abuse inquiry
  • Increase in threat level from international terrorism


LegacyLegacy

  • • Cuts to legal aid
  • Tougher regimes for violent prisoners
  • Overhaul of the youth justice system

 


It is undeniable that crime and justice policy will look very different in 2015 compared with 2010, regardless of your view on the merits of the Government’s work.

Justice Secretary Chris Grayling has overseen some of the most fundamental reforms of the system in memory in an attempt to reduce inefficiency and the department’s £6.8 billion budget.

The youth offenders system was one area ripe for overhaul when the Coalition came to power. With the Transforming Youth Custody programme finally underway, a new emphasis is being placed on education and mentoring within youth offender institutions.

High-profile jail closures and an increase in security measures within prisons have been followed by the controversial privatisation of large parts of the probation services.

As the ‘plebgate’ case continued (and concluded), fractions between the police and the Government remained an important backdrop. This peaked with the launch of a Home Affairs Committee report, which called for urgent reform after it revealed an apparent culture of bullying and money-wasting procedures within the police force.

The Conservatives’ traditional tough outlook towards crime and justice stands at odds with the Liberal Democrats’ belief in the power of rehabilitation. This juxtaposition in political ideology was inevitably going to cause significant issues and has reared its head on numerous occasions.

In the wake of the classroom stabbing of a Leeds teacher, infighting erupted between the coalition partners. A Tory proposal to impose a mandatory six-month jail term for any adult convicted of a second offence involving a knife was met with opposition from senior Liberal Democrats who argued that judges should be trusted to use their discretion in these cases.

The most public spat came with Lib Dem minister Norman Baker’s resignation. This was triggered by Home Secretary Theresa May allegedly delaying the publication of a study demonstrating that tougher enforcement of drug laws did not lead to lower levels of drug use. The paper was supported by the Liberal Democrats, with Mr Baker hailing it to mark the end of “robotic, mindless rhetoric” on drug enforcement.

The Prime Minister however publicly shot down the report. In a direct dig at his coalition partners, he stated the Liberal Democrat policy “would see drug dealers getting off scot-free”. Mr Baker returned the favour by describing working under the Home Secretary as like “walking through mud”.

These personal clashes aside, the impacts of grand promises and money-saving measures promised at election time have begun to seriously bite. No more so is this true then with legal aid. Cuts to the £2bn annual budget are on course to result in savings of £215m by 2018-19. The impacts of this have caused much despair to the legal professions. For them, the reforms go beyond an issue of budgets and mark a fundamental shift in the principles of the British legal system. To date, 600,000 people have lost access to legal aid since the cuts began.

Justice Minister Simon Hughes has defended the Government’s position by highlighting that this phenomenon is nothing new and judges are experienced in helping persons with no legal representation. However, it is difficult to ignore the startling figures from The Bar Council who estimate that 68,000 children annually are being affected by the removal of legal aid for family contact and finance disputes.

The defence for the reductions remains the same: that tough decisions had to be made to reduce the “most expensive legal aid system in the world”. However, in the first three months of 2014, the number of private law cases where both parties were represented by lawyers had halved compared to the same period last year. As a British judge said before the advent of legal aid, “the law, like the Ritz Hotel, is open to rich and poor alike”. Many of the coalition’s critics may feel those days are dawning again.