The Conservative Party’s Manifesto for the 2015 General Election contains detailed sections on fighting crime and terrorism, and also places a strong emphasis on standing up for the victims of crime. Brian Sims takes a look at the Tories’ proposed plans for a post-7 May era.
“Our commitment to you… Your local area should be a safe place in which to grow up, work, raise a family and retire. We will continue to cut crime and make your community safer. We will finish the job of police reform so that you can have more confidence that your local policing team is working effectively. We will also toughen sentencing and reform the prison system so that dangerous criminals are kept off your streets. We will support victims so that the most vulnerable in our society receive the support they deserve. We will scrap the Human Rights Act and curtail the role of the European Court of Human Rights so that foreign criminals can be more easily deported from Britain.”
Statistics from the independent Crime Survey tell us that crime is down by more than 20% since the coalition Government took office in 2010 and, indeed, is now at its lowest point since records began. Lower crime means fewer robberies, of course, less violence on our streets, fewer lives ruined and more and more people able to feel confident about the future.
“Labour didn’t trust our brilliant policemen and women, probation staff and prison officers to do their job,” states the Conservative Party Manifesto, “and tried to micro-manage every police force from Whitehall, doing serious damage to officer morale, police discretion and forces’ performance. Labour also failed to provide sufficient prison places: tens of thousands of prisoners were released early, putting the public at risk.”
The Conservatives point that the current Government has “made progress” in turning around the situation it inherited, with “comprehensive reforms” to policing, rehabilitation and the rights of victims.
“We have already increased the proportion of officers working on the front line and cut 4.5 million hours of police paperwork. We have given chief constables a clear mandate to cut crime, reformed Stop and Search, established the National Crime Agency, strengthened the police inspectorate, made the police more accountable through Police and Crime Commissioners, increased transparency through crime maps and established the College of Policing to drive up professional standards.” That’s an impressive programme of work in a relatively short timescale.
The Tories’ General Election Manifesto continues: “We have made sure that 45,000 offenders will now receive supervision and rehabilitation on release from prison, with providers paid according to the results they achieve in reducing re-offending. We reformed drug treatment so that abstinence and full recovery is the goal, instead of the routine maintenance of people’s addictions with substitute drugs. With the first-ever Modern Slavery Act, action is now being taken to tackle human trafficking. We will carry on making every community safer, even when resources are tight. We will continue reducing paperwork, increasing sentence lengths for the most serious offences and making sure that prisons are places of rehabilitation.”
Plan of Action for police reform and justice
The Conservative Party is determined to “finish the job” of police reform, backing officers to fight crime unimpeded.
To speed up justice, the Tories plan to extend the use of police-led prosecutions. “We will allow police forces to retain a greater percentage of the value of assets they seize from criminals. We will improve our response to cyber crime with reforms to police training and an expansion in the number of volunteer ‘Cyber Specials’. We will enable fire and police services to work more closely together and develop the role of our elected and accountable Police and Crime Commissioners. We will transform the relationship between the police and the public.”
The Conservatives also want to improve the diversity of police recruitment by supporting the development of new direct entry and fast-track schemes such as Police Now, which offers top graduates a new route into policing.
There will also be an overhaul for the police complaints system and use of the Police Innovation Fund to accelerate the adoption of new technologies – including mobile devices – that will “transform” the service the public receives.
“We will legislate to mandate changes in police practices if Stop and Search does not become more targeted and stop to arrest ratios do not improve” continues the Manifesto. “We will introduce more effective crime prevention measures to break the cycle of offending.”
The Conservative Party is developing what it terms “a modern crime prevention strategy”, then, that’s designed to address the key drivers of crime. “We will publish standards, performance data and a ranking system for the security of smart phones and tablets, as well as online financial and retail services. We will overhaul the system of police cautions and ensure that offenders always have conditions – such as victim redress – attached to their punishment.”
Reform of the prison system
Despite making savings in the prison budget, there are around 3,000 more adult male prison places today than was the case back in 2010. The Conservatives plan to make further savings by closing old and inefficient prisons, building larger, modern and fit-for-purpose ones and expanding payment-by-results.
Widespread random testing of drug use will be introduced in jails, as well as new body scanners, greater use of mobile phone blocking technology and a new strategy to tackle corruption in prisons.
In terms of protecting victims and supporting the vulnerable, the Tories have already introduced a new Victims’ Code and taken steps to protect vulnerable witnesses and victims. Now, the plan is to strengthen victims’ rights still further with a new Victims’ Law that will enshrine key rights for victims, including the right to make a personal statement and have it read in court before sentencing (and ahead of the Parole Board deciding on a given prisoner’s release).
“We will toughen sentencing and use new technology to protect the public. We will continue to reform the way in which we rehabilitate prisoners. We will deploy new technology to monitor offenders in the community and to bring persistent offenders to justice more quickly. A new semi-custodial sentence will be introduced for prolific criminals, allowing for a short, sharp spell in custody to change behaviour. To tackle those cases where judges get it wrong, we will extend the scope of the Unduly Lenient Scheme such that a wider range of sentences can be challenged.”
The Conservatives are intent on reviewing the legislation governing hate crimes, including the case for extending the scope of the law to cover crimes committed against people on the basis of disability, sexual orientation or transgender identity. “We will improve the treatment of women offenders, exploring how new technology may enable more women with young children to serve their sentence in the community. We will reform Human Rights law and our legal system. We have stopped prisoners from having the vote, and have deported suspected terrorists such as Abu Qatada despite all the problems created by Labour’s Human Rights laws.”
Scrapping the Human Rights Act and combating terrorism
The next Conservative Government will scrap the Human Rights Act and, in its place, introduce a British Bill of Rights. This will break the formal link between British courts and the European Court of Human Rights while making our own Supreme Court “the ultimate arbiter” of Human Rights matters in the UK.
The threat of extremism and terrorism remains serious, of course, but the Tories believe that the party’s “tough, intelligent and comprehensive approach” will confront and, ultimately, defeat the threat.
The Conservatives will strengthen the ability of the police service and intelligence agencies to disrupt terrorist plots, so the authorities have all the tools they need to prevent attacks and deal with online radicalisation and propaganda. They can then reduce the risk of young people being drawn into extremism and terrorism and tackle all forms of extremism (including non-violent forms).
The first duty of Government is, of course, to keep the population safe. “We will always do whatever is necessary to protect the British people. We have protected and increased the budgets for the security and intelligence agencies and counter-terrorism policing. However, the scale of the threat to our country from a number of terrorist groups remains serious, and the rise of ISIL in Syria and Iraq has created new havens for terrorists from which attacks against Britain can be planned, financed and directed.”
There’s little doubt that the nature of the threat we face is now making it more difficult for the security services to identify terrorist plots. The Conservative’s response? “We must always ensure our outstanding intelligence and security agencies have the powers they need to keep us safe. At the same time, we continue to reject any suggestions of sweeping, authoritarian measures that would threaten our hard-won freedoms. In the last year alone, we have given the authorities greater powers to disrupt and control the movements of people who want to travel abroad to fight, including strengthening powers to confiscate the passports of those seeking to travel to commit terrorism.”
“Tough, intelligent and comprehensive” approach
The next Conservative Government has pledged to continue taking a tough, intelligent and comprehensive approach to preventing terrorism and confronting extremism. “We will update our counter-terrorism laws wherever necessary to make sure they properly reflect the threats we face. Dealing with these threats is not just about new powers. It’s about how we combat extremism in all its forms. We need to tackle it at root before it takes the form of violence and terror. At the heart of our approach lies an uncompromising defence of British values and a very simple message: ‘In Britain, you do not just enjoy the freedom to live how you choose. You have a responsibility to respect others, too’.”
The Manifesto continues: “We will keep up-to-date the ability of the police and security services to access communications data – the ‘who, where, when and how’ of a communication, but not its content. Our new communications data legislation will strengthen our ability to disrupt terrorist plots and criminal networks, even as technology develops. We will maintain the ability of the authorities to intercept the content of suspects’ communications while continuing to strengthen oversight of the use of these powers. We will confront all forms of extremism, including non-violent extremism.”
The Conservatives have already reformed the Prevent strategy such that it focuses on non-violent as well as violent extremism but will now go even further. “We will outlaw groups that foment hate with the introduction of new Banning Orders for extremist organisations. These could be applied to dangerous organisations that fall short of the existing thresholds for proscription under terrorism legislation. To restrict the harmful activities of extremist individuals, we will create new Extremism Disruption Orders. These powers might, for instance, prevent those who are seeking to radicalise young British people online from using the Internet or communicating via social media.”
The Tory Manifesto also points to the development of a strategy designed to tackle the infiltration of extremists into our schools and public services. “We will strengthen Ofcom’s role so that tough measures can be taken against channels that broadcast extremist content. We will enable employers to check whether an individual is an extremist. We will take further measures to ensure that colleges and universities do not give a platform to extremist speakers.”