Monday 12 September 2016
In the dog days of summer, it’s often criminal justice that keeps on barking and this year has proved no exception with headlines about policing, prisons and more coming thick and fast. Resignations, revelations, changes and new trends have dominated the news agenda through July and August and will, in time, make their effects felt across CJS policy, governance and service delivery.
The fallout from the EU referendum led to wholesale changes at the Home Office and Ministry of Justice, with new Secretaries of State in Amber Rudd and Liz Truss and a raft of new junior ministers too as Prime Minister Theresa May shuffled her pack across Whitehall. Quite what happens to Michael Gove’s ambitious program of reforms, prisons in particular, will be one to watch. In the outside world, Brexit was felt by some more than others – and not in a good way – with a 16% rise in hate crime year on year in June recorded by police forces. The Metropolitan Police announced plans for a specialist hub to address this type of crime which will become a priority across England and Wales. Away from Whitehall there were equally significant changes of the guard, notably the appointment of Vera Baird QC as Chair of the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners (APCC).
With PCCs keen to take on new responsibilities, including witness services, probation and even the courts, the APCC will become an increasingly prominent, influential and visible player. The sudden departure of Justice Lowell Goddard as Chair of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse intensified calls to limit the inquiry’s scope. The Home Office rejected them and new chair Professor Alexis Jay told victims and survivors “be in no doubt – this inquiry is open for business”. Making his mark, the new Chief Inspector of Prisons, Peter Clarke, described jails in England and Wales as “unacceptably violent and dangerous places”. A later HMI report criticised the quality and quantity of food for inmates and found jails were limited to spending £2 per day per inmate on meals. Seven news organisations struck a blow for greater transparency in the courts successfully persuading the Court of Appeal to order the publication of a pre-sentence report about Ben Butler drawn up three months before he murdered his six-year-old daughter. As expected, new figures from the Office of National Statistics showed that fraud is the most prevalent crime in Britain with 3.8 million offences last year and a further 2 million cyber offences.
Now the scale of this volume crime is known, the debate between law enforcement, industry and the public about who is responsible for tackling it will become increasingly noisy. The death of former Aston Villa footballer Dalian Atkinson following the use of a Taser reignited the debate about the police use of force and mental health, while a survey by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary found one in three people have not seen a bobby on the beat for a year. Policing continues to seek to change itself with ten forces and the College of Policing winning £23 million of funding from the police transformation fund for projects such as digital crime scene image transfers and child sexual abuse prevention. And finally, just as MPs were returning from their constituencies, Keith Vaz, perhaps Labour’s most powerful figure in Parliament, was forced to step down as Chair of the Home Affairs Committee, following sex and drugs-related allegations. So much for the silly season.