Annual Policy Review 2014


Crime and Justice

Crime and Justice

Achieved

  • Extradition of Abu Qatada
  • Introduction of PCCs
  • Windsor reforms to police pay and conditions

More to do

  • Make PCCs a success
  • See through police and justice system reforms

Stalled/dropped

  • UK Bill of Rights
  • Communications Data Bill

The unexpected

  • Renewed terrorism threat
  • Votes for prisoners
  • Entrenched opposition to legal aid cuts from the legal professions
  • Plebgate

Dangers

  • Cuts to budget – police pay / security

 

Crime and justice has continued to be a policy area in which the two Coalition parties’ political instincts clash. Traditional Conservative responses to crime and terrorism in the form of greater police powers and tougher sentences have rubbed up awkwardly against Liberal Democrat concerns for civil liberties.

The murder in Woolwich was a reminder that the threats to the public are real, and the Government has continued its strategy of neutralising the terrorist threat where it can. A milestone in this journey was the extradition of Abu Qatada in July last year after a series of frustrating legal delays. More contentious was the detention of David Miranda – partner of Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald – at Heathrow for possession of classified documents.

All of this has of course taken place against a backdrop of budget cuts, affecting both policing and the justice system. Police forces in England and Wales will endure a 20% reduction in funds over three years, while the justice system agreed in May to another 10% reduction in budget in 2015-16.

In both cases, Home Secretary Theresa May and Justice Secretary Chris Grayling have stressed the need for reform and the importance of protecting the most important front line delivery. But inevitably, the quest for savings has led to tension with the professionals charged with delivery.

The Government’s legal aid reforms have seen strong opposition within the legal professions (culminating in the first ever strike by the criminal bar), while the Police Federation has issued warnings about the effects on front line policing of squeezed budgets.

Indeed, the relationship between politicians and police has threatened to be extremely problematic for the Government, and one which became poisoned in the aftermath to the ‘plebgate’ controversy. The police handling of an altercation with Chief Whip Andrew Mitchell saw even natural political allies reluctant to back them publicly.

This was a good example of how despite grand strategies and long term reforms, one-off events can make a huge impact. More than any just about any other policy brief, crime and justice is prone to unexpected crises and mishaps which leave politicians in trouble. Steering clear of any such unwelcome surprises will be the main preoccupation of ministers between now and May 2015.