Neither Conservative nor Labour have any plans to deal with the many criminal justice crises

The Conservative Party fought the 2019 General Election with a manifesto commitment to establish a Royal Commission on Criminal Justice. The promise was welcomed by almost everyone involved in criminal justice. Despite repeated attempts over the last four years to hold the government to its word, notably by the former Prisons Inspector Lord Ramsbotham, the promise was simply broken. There has never been any government apology or explanation; just vague mutterings about the pandemic making things rather difficult.

Meanwhile the crisis has deepened since 2019. Court waiting lists are longer, prisons are more overcrowded and more degrading than ever. Experienced prison officers have left the Prison Service in their thousands. Experienced lawyers have stopped practising criminal law. Trust in the police has continued to decline, often for good reason. How many innocent people have been wrongfully convicted – perhaps because of over-stretched police or over-worked lawyers – is unknowable, not least because the of the parlous state of the Criminal Cases Review Commission, the dismal performance of which has been exposed by the Post Office scandal and the Andrew Malkinson case. On the bright side, of course, the government did lend Parliamentary time to a law that now makes it easier to prosecute, and if necessary imprison, those who feed other people’s cats.

The 2024 Conservative Party Manifesto seems unlikely to to repeat the promise of a Royal Commission (and they could hardly expect anyone to believe them if they did). The party has made no suggestion so far of any serious plans to deal with any of the critical criminal justice issues. Instead the two measures so far announced are for tinkering with homicide law.

The proposals are to reclassify manslaughter by diminished responsibility as “second degree murder,” and to ensure that killers who murder “in the home” will face a minimum custodial term of 25 years before being considered for release on licence.

The proposal to reclassify one type of manslaughter appears to be a reaction to the indefinite Hospital Order imposed on Valdo Calocane. The Prime Minister is said to have “struggled to understand how the punishment was fair given the nature and circumstances of the crime.” Relabelling manslaughter as “second degree murder” seems fairly inconsequential, but if he actually struggles to understand why it is a bad idea to incarcerate exceptionally dangerous and floridly psychotic individuals like Calocane in ordinary prisons rather than in high security psychiatric hospitals he is far more stupid than anyone imagined. The more likely explanation is that he is not particularly stupid but is trying to make political capital from a horrific case.

The second idea, that killers who “murder in the home” should face longer minimum terms, does not appear to have been prompted by any particular case. Nor does it appear to have been given much thought. If a murderer has a history of domestic abuse that is rightly treated as something that aggravates the offence; but the rationale for treating him more leniently if he is considerate enough to drive his wife to isolated woodland before strangling her has yet to be explained. Nor is it clear why a victim of abuse who kills her abuser, or a loving carer who smothers a terminally ill relative in a perceived act of mercy, should be treated with particular severity simply because the killings takes place “in the home.”

Given the likely outcome of the election the Prime Minister’s plans for criminal justice are almost certainly irrelevant. What matters is what a Labour Government with a huge majority will do, and Labour’s strategy of saying even less about the crisis than the Conservatives means we still have little idea. Perhaps they don’t either. There are very few grounds for optimism. The last time they were in power they devised the egregiously unjust sentence of “Imprisonment for Public Protection,” under which thousands of prisoners were given what were in all but name life sentences, often for relatively trivial offences. Even the minister responsible for its introduction now regards the policy as a disaster.

This post originally appeared in the Spectator on 7th June 2024

Author: Matthew

I have been a barrister for over 25 years, specialising in crime. You may also have come across some of my articles I have written on legal issues for The Times, Standpoint, Daily Telegraph or Criminal Law & Justice Weekly

8 thoughts on “Neither Conservative nor Labour have any plans to deal with the many criminal justice crises”

  1. I know a criminal barrister who mainly defends people who have very little chance of ‘getting off’. Very good news for cat owners, I am having a problem with illegal feeding of my cats.
    I have come to the conclusion that things need to go back to a safer time in the UK, bringing back approved schools where children can be educated in boarding schools away from the area they live.
    Maybe a re-introduction of Borstal Institutions with perhaps an option of birching instead of being locked up!!

  2. Thank goodness for some common sense and welcome comment.
    Politicians playing “games” based on populist agendae and misinformed agitators, is never to be welcomed or supported.
    Of course sympathy for all families affected by tragedy is appropriate, but introducing new laws , unnecessary and counterproductive laws, is totally inappropriate.
    As for RS and the Tories….yes they’re making a dog’s dinner of the campaign….but to be honest, whatever he or they did mattered not one bit….they were doomed by BJ and LT.
    The only question was how many seats could be salvaged….that still remains the question!

  3. The blistering incompetence of the politicians of all the major parties when it comes to police, justice and prison reform is plain for all to see. As you intimate, their only interest is to be able to score political points, following some knee-jerk reaction to a particularly serious murder or scandal. For, “particularly serious” read “well publicised”. As the economy is in a straightjacket, no political party is going to suggest raising taxes to deal with crime, jails, or even ‘justice’.

  4. Your piece on Valdo Colocane was excellent, if anything his future is horiffic if unavoidable.

    This from the BBC is pretty bad as well

    There is a clear injustice to the accused as well as victims

    A man charged with fraud in 2019 will not have his case heard until 2025. In the meantime he cannot get divorced, as he doesn’t know what sort of financial settlement he can reach with his wife

  5. You could make a very valuable contribution to the analysis of the central meta-problem of UK public affairs, if you could only devise a clear and analytical name for it. And I believe that competent nomination or designation of this kind, does belong to the skill set of the very best lawyers.
    ‘The problem’ is that all public discussion of any ‘public’, or ‘national’ or ‘political’ or ‘social’, etc, issue is focussed on ‘winning’ the encounter or occasion or event in which it occurs — whether that is a conversation in a pub, or a social media post, or a journalistic report or commentary or interview, or ‘PMQs’, or a local or national election (it is no coincidence that the supreme all-consuming festival of a General Election normally comes around at about the same interval as in the four-year cycle of the Olympic games).
    Why is this a ‘problem’? Because while in, eg, a football game it is entirely proper for every movement of every player to be exclusively motivated by the scoring or preventing of goals — rather than having any concern with the management or financing of that team or club — issues such as training of players and potential players, stadium maintenance, ticketing, ownership, promotion etc, and the development of the game itself in all its aspects — it is entirely wrong for all significant discussion of public affairs to leave entirely out of account any practical possibility of ameliorating, still less solving, any of the ‘problems’ with which it is ostensibly concerned.

  6. As the criminal justice system is bottom of the priority list for people who don’t imagine they’ll ever be a victim of it, the only things party leaders seem to be interested in is giving the impression of wanting to lock up even more than we do now and spending as little as possible on that department.

    So, David Blunkett may at least be honourable enough to accept that he made a big mistake but, unfortunately, I don’t expect the same honesty and integrity from Keir Starmer in accepting that his policy, while DPP, that all alleged sex offence complainants should be believed by the police as a starting point for their ‘investigation’ has led inevitably to the Carl Beech fiasco and God only knows how many innocent people being wrongly prosecuted, and imprisoned.

  7. Bad drugs policy is the root cause of most crime and violence in the UK. Over the past 50 years, it has caused deep fractures in our communities and it is driving the breakdown of our society.

    Demand for drugs comes from within our communities and prohibition creates criminal markets to meet this demand.

    Instead of government abandoning communities to criminal gangs, they should take responsibility and regulate drugs markets. Access would be restricted in accordance with each drug’s potential for harm. The production and supply of drugs would be controlled and taxed in order to finance the system.

    This won’t eliminate all harm and crime but it will minimise them. Current policy maximises harm, crime and violence.

  8. The jail crisis is simply dealt with. Build more prisons and when they get close to full build some more.

    Jail works, to the extent that it does, because criminals locked up in them aren’t free to wander the streets committing more crimes. It would be wonderful if rehabilitation worked but it clearly doesn’t so wishful thinking on that topic should be abandoned.

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