Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Dan and Boris - the bleak future of British justice.

Daniel Hannan wrote an extraordinary piece in the Torygraph, where he accepted his share of blame for the disaster that is the role of Police and Crime Commissioner, but found other reasons why the role hadn't worked out as he envisaged.

Terrifyingly, he expected the PCCs to be more operational, despite the oath of office which specifically binds them not to interfere with Chief Constables' operational command decisions. Hannan raises two cases, both involving UKIP supporters (including one who has some interesting views on the controlling influence of the Catholic Church over the EU), where he feels that a PCC should have intervened in what was clearly an operational matter. Setting priorities for policing is not the same as directing police officers not to enforce certain laws because they match your idea of a "thought crime." Indeed, it would be a breach of the PCC oath to do so what Danny demands:
I will not interfere with the operational independence of police officers
Then we head into the details that the Home Office got wrong. Voters haven't engaged with the role of PCC because Dan didn't win the fight to get them called "Sheriffs.

There are some points where I agree - the idea of holding the original elections in November was genuinely stupid and denying candidates the universal mailshot provided in European and parliamentary elections was equally daft.

Dan then bemoans the lack of independents, because he assumed that parties would not contest them (although the LibDems have held up their end of the deal by not putting up any contest at all, even when they put up candidates). Actually, a quarter of the elected PCCs are independents, including the Kent PCC that he ridicules, damned because she actually has a decade of experience as a member of the former Police Authority and possibly also because she campaigned against the concept of the commissioner.

Historically, of course, independents were added to police authorities by John Major's government in the 1990s to reduce their political impact - previously, they had majority representation from county councillors (giving the public a say in local policing, but offering some protection in not putting all the power in the hands of one person).

If Dan thought that political parties would not get involved, then he is naive in the extreme. Without a support base and activists, it is very difficult to campaign across any large force area. If Dan wants the elections in May, at the same time as the local elections, then I would suggest that 2012 will be the high-water mark for the independents and 2016 would see many swept away by party politicians.

The PCC legislation was incompetent in drafting and ineptly implemented. The role should be scrapped as one of the first actions of an incoming Labour government, to be replaced by reformed police authorities.

And then there was Boris. Alongside being an occasional mayor, Telegraph columnist, high wire performer and comic turn, Boris is also effectively the PCC for the metropolis itself and has form for trying to intervene in operational matters, like the arrest of Damian Green. Yesterday, however, St Boris proposed a "minor change in the law" that would render people innocent until proven guilty over visits to Syria or Iraq.

The scale of cuts to the police service and to legal aid mean that the Tories have surrendered any pretence of being the party of law and order or justice. What we see with Hannan and Johnson is almost the logical succession - political police commissioners interfering in operational matters and the reversal of the burden of proof over serious offences.

This shouldn't worry you. You should be scared. 

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