Liberal Democrat Conference backs radical proposals to reform the police and criminal justice system

September 12, 2008 3:34 PM
Originally published by UK Liberal Democrats

The Liberal Democrat Autumn Conference today backed radical plans to reduce crime by focusing on catching more criminals, rather than tough rhetoric and posturing on penalties.

The proposals include: 10,000 extra police on the streets, paid for by scrapping ID cards Decentralising the force by scrapping counterproductive central targets, introducing the local setting of priorities and budgets and the direct election of the majority of police authority members Creating a National Crime Reduction Agency to assess police and criminal justice policies on evidence and to spread best practice Respecting independent decisions on police pay

Commenting, Liberal Democrat Shadow Home Secretary, Chris Huhne said:

"For too long, policing and criminal justice policies have been decided by what sounds tough, rather than what works.

"The sentencing arms race between Labour and the Tories and Labour's legislative diarrhoea in creating 3,600 new criminal offences since 1997 have been used as a proxy for real action on crime.

"These radical proposals are designed to shift the debate away from posturing on penalties and towards catching criminals.

"Labour has failed to transform the system, and we know from experience that the Conservatives won't. Only the Liberal Democrats are committed to meaningful reform of the police force."

The full text of the motion is copied below:

Conference notes that:

i) There is widespread distrust of crime statistics.

ii) Overall crime has fallen, but fear of crime remains high, with knife crime a key reason.

iii) Fear has been fed by Labour and Tory competition on punishment.

iv) The prison population has never been higher and is the highest in Europe.

v) The average Crown Court custodial sentence is up from 22 to 25 months since 1996.

vi) Prisons are colleges of crime where 92% of young men on short-term custodial sentences reoffend within two years.

vii) The Government's own evidence demonstrates that sentence severity does not deter criminals, but detection does.

viii) As few as one in a hundred crimes leads to a conviction in court.

ix) There is widespread concern that police authorities lack the authority to stand up to Whitehall in setting local priorities and budgets.

Conference believes that:

A. Catching criminals through better policing and improved detection is more effective in cutting crime than posturing on penalties.

B. The public should have more information about local crime and detection rates to hold the police to account.

C. Elected police authorities should represent local communities in all their diversity, unlike the elected sheriffs proposed by the Tories.

D. The effectiveness of police authorities should be recognised by scrapping Whitehall capping of budgets.

E. Neighbourhood policing has proved effective in re-establishing community trust, gathering intelligence, and encouraging witnesses to come forward.

F. The police are too tied up in red tape, hampered by centralised targets, and demoralised by failure to respect independent pay awards.

G. Reoffending is best tackled by making prisoners work or learn to ensure that they are prepared for a life after crime.

H. Policing and penal policy should be based on what works, not tabloid headlines.

Conference therefore calls for:

1. An extra 10,000 police officers on the streets, paid for by scrapping the ID card scheme, and the use of neighbourhood policing.

2. An end to centralised targets that distort local police priorities.

3. Police forces to be accountable to elected authorities, which are able to defend local priorities, set budgets and vary taxes where necessary:

a) Police authorities should be local councils where the borders are the same as those of police forces.

b) Where police forces straddle more than one council, two-thirds of the members of police authorities should be directly elected once every four years by the single transferable vote, and one-third of the members should be nominated by councils that are crime and disorder reduction partnerships in the force area.

c) Police authorities should co-opt extra members such as magistrates and others to ensure diversity, experience and expertise.

d) Chief Officers to be answerable for their force's performance.

4. Command units to be aligned with local councils (or two local councils where they are small) to ensure better partnership on crime reduction and disorder measures, an agreed plan, and accountability to local priorities.

5. Faith to be restored in crime figures by:

a) Placing them under the supervision of the Office of National Statistics.

b) Publishing crime and detection rates at ward level.

6. A National Crime Reduction Agency to be charged with assessing and reporting on the effectiveness of policing and criminal justice measures.

7. The spreading of best practice such as hot-spot policing to boost detection rates to the standards of the best police units.

8. The Government to respect police pay awards from independent arbitration.

9. A significant reduction in unnecessary police paperwork, better use of voice-recognition technology and hand-held computers.

10. Greater discretion for Chief Officers in managing their force, in deciding key staff changes and in rewarding key specialisms.

11. Reform of the prison system so that:

a) All prisoners have access to education and training as a route into work.

b) Prisoners with drug addictions and mental health problems are treated medically in more appropriate accommodation.

12. A reform of the criminal justice system, with four new elements:

a) New Community Justice Panels to be set up in every town and city to deal with anti-social behaviour and low-level criminality, so that offenders can pay back the community they have wronged.

b) National use of restorative justice programmes, in which criminals can face up to what they have done, apologise and agree to make amends to their victims.

c) Expand the use of specialist courts, notably drugs courts, so that judges can develop expertise in dealing with cases and vary requirements according to the offender's progress on rehabilitation.

d) A reinforced probation service to ensure that community sentences are enforced.