The Conservative party manifesto delivered on its well-trailed promises of 20,000 new police officers, 10,000 more prison places and a ratcheting up of sentencing powers. A raft of criminal justice policies were unveiled yesterday which would represent a clampdown on the perceived excesses of ‘soft justice’ as identified by the prime minister including enhanced top and search powers, a ‘root-and-branch’ review of the parole systems, a victims’ law and a pledge to maintain the ban on prisoners voting from jail.
A Tory government under Boris Johnson would represent a major shift towards bolstering the rights of victims and away from protecting defendants. ‘Delivering justice does not just mean treating defendants fairly, but doing right by victims,’ the manifesto said. ‘So we will pass and implement a Victims’ Law that guarantees victims’ rights and the level of support they can expect.’
The Johnson government also promises a royal commission on criminal justice – the first since the 1993 Runciman commission established on the day that the Birmingham Six were released from prison as a result of concerns about miscarriages of justice.
According to the manifesto, the Conservatives would ‘always back the brave men and women of our police and security services’. There would be increased use of stop and search (‘as long as it is fair and proportionate’), more tasers and body cameras, and a new court order to target ‘known knife carriers’ making it easier for stop and search. ‘Anyone charged with knife possession will appear before magistrates within days not weeks. Those who use a knife as a weapon should go to prison,’ it continued.
Back in May, Boris Johnson set out his stall on justice issues in a controversial column for the Daily Telegraph which ridiculed our ‘cockeyed crook-coddling criminal justice system’. In particular, he lambasted ‘the Leftist culture’ of the criminal justice ‘establishment’ and accused parole boards of being ‘simple slaves to political correctness’. On to stop and search, the former mayor of London asserted that it was ‘not racist or discriminatory’ despite evidence that black Britons were nine time more likely to be stopped.
A Tory government would mean tougher sentencing for the worst offenders and (again as widely trailed) the party would end ‘automatic halfway release from prison for serious crimes’ and for child murderers there would be ‘life imprisonment without parole’ – despite concerns that ministers don’t understand the present regime (see here).
The Conservatives also promised ‘sobriety tags’ – ankle bracelets to detect alcohol levels in sweat – for those whose offending was ‘fuelled by alcohol’; all well as tougher community sentences by ’tightening curfews and making those convicted do more hours of community payback to clean up our parks and streets’.
For prisons, the manifesto pledged £2.75 billion (’already committed’) to refurbishing and creating modern prisons.
The Tories also promised a Domestic Abuse Bill (the original bill having been shelved as a result of Johnson’s unlawful decision to prorogue the Commons) as well as support for victims and refuges. One in six refuges have closed since 2010.
There was no mention of legal aid. The words ‘access to justice’ did feature but only in the context of a somewhat opaque section on the need for constitutional reform.
‘After Brexit we also need to look at the broader aspects of our constitution: the relationship between the Government, Parliament and the courts; the functioning of the Royal Prerogative; the role of the House of Lords; and access to justice for ordinary people… . We will update the Human Rights Act and administrative law to ensure that there is a proper balance between the rights of individuals, our vital national security and effective government’
The manifesto suggested both that judicial review should be available ‘to protect the rights of the individuals against an overbearing state’ while ensuring that it was ‘not abused to conduct politics by another means or to create needless delays’.