HC 1456 Home Affairs CommitteeWritten evidence submitted by Liberty [PLD24]

Riots across England in August filled our TV screens with terrible images of violence and criminality. Victims of the disorder and damaged communities have rightly demanded answers about the strategy of the authorities. Liberty therefore welcomes this wide-ranging inquiry by the Home Affairs Select Committee. As countless voices have attempted to explain why such violence occurred and how we should try to prevent it happening again, it is important to remember that lessons learned and any future reforms in policy or legislation need to be informed by evidence and shaped by the principles we seek to uphold as a society. Liberty doesn’t have easy answers as to why so many were swept up in waves of self-destructive madness in July. We do, however, have 77 years of experience of holding the police to account and have developed some understanding of the challenges of public order policing. In this short response we limit our comments to the authorities’ handling of the initial protest which sparked the first riot; the policing response to the wider disorder; broader issues concerning police and community relations and police accountability; the political response to the disorder and the law reform proposals which have been mooted.

Shooting of Mark Duggan and the Authorities’ Response

On 4 August Mark Duggan was shot by a firearms officer in Tottenham Hale and died from a single gunshot wound to his chest. The case was immediately referred to the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) to investigate. In the days that followed a protest was organised by the family and friends of Mark Duggan to take place outside Tottenham police station on 6 August. Those who attended reported that a peaceful protest took place for several hours. The family of Mark Duggan have since said that they were frustrated by the lack of police engagement with the questions that they asked. While the subsequent widespread rioting and looting was evidently unconnected to the shooting of Mark Duggan, in evaluating events the Mark Duggan case and the response of the authorities must not be ignored. As the Metropolitan police have since acknowledged, more could have been done to engage with the family and local community in Tottenham following the shooting of Mark Duggan.

Liberty successfully lobbied for the creation of the Independent Police Complains Commission (IPCC) and we believe strongly in the importance of an independent institution empowered to investigate allegations of police misconduct. That said, the existence of such a body should not mean that victims or grieving relatives are ignored while investigations are ongoing. Perhaps even more disturbingly, soon after the disorder seen in Tottenham on 6 August, it was reported that the IPCC had provided incorrect information to journalists about the circumstances of the shooting. In particular, the IPCC reported that a bullet fired by Mark Duggan had been recovered from a police radio, a statement which was later retracted following forensic tests. Unfortunately, this is not the first time that the IPCC has been found wanting in its immediate response to questions about an investigation into police involvement in a fatality. In 2009 the death of Ian Tomlinson was referred to the IPCC when video footage emerged of a police officer striking Mr Tomlinson and causing him to fall shortly before he died. Soon after, the IPCC reported that there was no CCTV footage in the vicinity of the City of London. This information was inaccurate. For obvious reasons, it is incredibly important that the IPCC is seen to be fair and impartial in its investigations into police conduct. Press responses and oral briefings to journalists which contain inaccurate information about factual circumstances can do enormous damage to trust and confidence in the IPCC and the investigation it is pursuing. This is especially the case where the inaccurate information disclosed can be perceived as an attempt to justify police actions or protect the police from full scrutiny.

One of the most significant obstacles faced by the IPCC in recent years has been a failure to effectively demonstrate independence from the police service. When the organisation was created by the Police Reform Act 2002, Liberty raised concerns about weak statutory guarantees of independence, with the body only required only to maintain an “appropriate degree of independence”, leaving scope for independence to be compromised, particularly on cost-cutting and efficiency grounds. Further, under Schedule 2, paragraph 6 (2) of the Police Reform Act, provision was made for police officers to be seconded to the IPCC’s staff. The role played by former police officers in IPCC investigations does little to encourage confidence in its independence. Whilst according to the IPCC’s 2010–11 Annual Report only 18 out of 85 investigators are former police officers, it is notable that eight out of nine senior investigators are former police officers and over half of deputy investigators are ex-police officers or ex-civilian police officers. Liberty does not oppose the involvement of some police in the IPCC, because of their skills and expertise. However for the IPCC to maintain, and be seen to maintain its independence, limits should be placed on the numbers of former officers employed and the types of roles they are able to perform.

The IPCC has further been roundly criticised for the relatively small number of fully autonomous investigations it conducts. Last year only 164 independent investigations were completed; managed investigations, namely those carried out by forces but under the direction of the IPPC, totalled 171; this is out of a total of 22,100 complaints received by the IPCC, including direct complaints from the public, appeals and referrals from police forces. Out of the 12,750 direct complaints received last year, 11,470 were forwarded to the police force to which the complaint related. Liberty believes that an increase in the number of fully independent IPCC investigations will improve its credentials as an organisation able to effectively hold the police to account. To the extent that complaints continue to be dealt with at the level of local forces, we believe the IPCC should play a greater role in overseeing all complaints.

Police Handling of the Riots

In the days that followed the riots in London and other major cities in England, the police faced some public criticism for failing to initially contain the disorder. Liberty can understand this frustration. As violence spread across London on Monday 8 August images and reports indicated that there were simply not enough police officers deployed to be able to contain the disorder. As a result, individuals were able to commit criminal acts in public, sometimes in front of police officers and on TV cameras, without being arrested. With the benefit of hindsight it is now clear that on that day, the Metropolitan police were overwhelmed in terms of numbers and that Manchester police were similarly overwhelmed on the evening of the 9th. It is important to acknowledge that police numbers cannot be routinely set at a level appropriate to policing large scale disorder—this is an inescapable feature of tackling unexpected and far-reaching outbursts of criminality. However in London, following the sudden and widespread escalation of violence on Monday night, thousands of additional officers were drafted in and 16,000 officers were deployed on the following evening. Indeed, senior officers and the Home Secretary have since acknowledged that it was these additional human resources which meant that further disorder was prevented. In light of these frustrations, and with the benefit of hindsight, it is reasonable to ask how in future the police could be better poised to react to sudden public disorder in order to deploy sufficient numbers of officers to make arrests where appropriate and protect the public from harm and damage to property.

Liberty is well aware of the challenges of public order policing. Whilst it is important to emphasise that violent disorder has nothing to do with exercise of the right to peaceful protest, we have, throughout our history, acted as Legal Observers of the policing of marches and demonstrations some of which have involved disorder. We have consistently warned of the risks, inherent in the use of the blanket tools such as water cannon and baton rounds, and it was heartening to hear senior officers consequently rejecting their use. Indiscriminate use of such tools ends up targeting large numbers of people, regardless of their behaviour, punishing the innocent along with the guilty and creating widespread panic. Where possible it is far preferable for the police to make targeted arrests of those involved in committing criminal activities rather than imposing blanket measures. The ability of the police to make arrests is obviously in part dependant on police numbers present and the practical circumstances.

Since 1934, Liberty has been a critical friend to the police and has never shied away from holding the police service to account. However, similarly we must give credit where it is due. The UK has a long and proud history of policing by consent and despite huge provocation from the actions of a minority and pressure from some politicians and sections of the media, senior officers responded to the riots in a proportionate manner in word and deed. Police chiefs were robust in rejecting calls for military intervention, water cannon and plastic bullet rounds. Instead they took the operational decision to redeploy and inflate the numbers of officers on the streets with good effect. Tim Godwin, acting Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, said that he would rather be the last man left in Scotland Yard, with his entire management team on the streets, than call for the army. Sir Hugh Orde, President, of the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO), dismissed the use of both water cannon and baton rounds as inappropriate for the circumstances. Past use of plastic bullets in Northern Ireland resulted in 14 deaths, including nine children. This time round in England, wise police leadership resisted the temptation to resort to dangerous riot control weapons and focussed on tackling the problem rather than fanning the flames. We urge the Committee when it assesses the events of last month in order to learn lessons for the future, that it takes into account painful lessons from past tragedies.

Police and Community Relations

While nothing can excuse the violence displayed in our towns and cities over a number of days last month, it would be short-sighted for the general state of police and community relations not to be examined in its wake.

Over the past decade, the police have been granted unprecedented powers, which have often been wide and blanket in nature. Examples abound of the way in which such powers have scooped up the innocent with the guilty and left minority ethnic groups dangerously exposed to discriminatory treatment. Section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000 is a key example of a divisive police power, over-used and highly susceptible to arbitrary and discriminatory operational impact. While this provision no longer has operational effect following Liberty’s successful challenge in the European Court of Human Rights, the use of the power has had a hugely negative impact on community relations with police. Thousands of predominantly young Asian men have been stopped and searched by police, sometimes on a daily basis. Rifts in the relationship of police with their communities following the disproportionate use of such powers will always take time to heal.

Despite the welcome repeal of section 44, similar powers remain on the statute book. Stop and search without suspicion under section 60 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 (CJPOA) has a similarly alienating impact to section 44. Stops under section 60 have gone up dramatically over the last decade. In 2009–10 there were 118,446 section 60 stop and searches across England and Wales—a huge increase when compared with the 11,330 carried out in 2000–01. In the year 2009–10, the Met Police conducted 77% of all stops and searches in London (90,992 stops and searches); 41% of these were of Black people. Based on Ministry of Justice statistics for 2008–09 across England and Wales, you are 26 more times likely to be stopped under section 60 if you are Black than if you are White. Once searched, White suspects were the most likely to be arrested across England and Wales, with 9% arrested following being searched; Asian and Black suspects were less likely to be arrested, with 6% and 7% respectively arrested after being searched. The discord between the number stopped and those consequently arrested reveals the arbitrary and discriminatory impact of a power which has little to do with intelligence-led policing.

Liberty was alarmed at Home Office proposals in late 2010, subsequently dropped, to amend the PACE (Police and Criminal Evidence) Code in relation to stops and searches without suspicion under section 60 to allow explicitly for ethnicity to form part of the decision to stop and search. Whilst this endorsement of racial profiling was removed following a quasi-public consultation, revised PACE Code A unfortunately also removes the national requirement to record “stop and accounts”. The removal of the mandatory requirement to record ethnicity when stopping, but not searching, an individual scraps a vital tool for monitoring the impact of section 60 on the ground and directly overturns a recommendation made by Sir William Macpherson’s inquiry into the tragic death of Stephen Lawrence.

Liberty continues to believe that powers to stop and search without suspicion have made a significant contribution to ruptures in the relationship between the police and the communities they serve. The presence of these powers on the statute book and a lack of appropriate guidance puts police, called upon to make difficult decisions in high pressure situations, in an unenviable position.

Government’s Response to the Riots

Responding to the riots, the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary made a number of public statements and speeches. The Prime Minister also recalled Parliament for an emergency debate on 11 August. Events such as those witnessed on the 8th and 9th of August place significant pressure on political leaders to be seen to be responding appropriately. It is therefore common, as we saw on this instance, for knee-jerk policy proposals to be announced. Liberty urges parliamentarians to pause and reflect before introducing further police powers. As we have observed above, both senior officers and the Home Secretary have separately acknowledged that it was the deployment of greater numbers of police officers and not the use of blanket, authoritarian powers which brought the disorder under control.

Specifically, in his statement to Parliament on 11th August the Prime Minister proposed possible new powers in several areas, including:

additional dispersal powers and a power of general curfew;

police powers to require the removal of face coverings;

powers to evict council tenants convicted during the riots; and

powers to close social media networks.

The Prime Minister also urged the greater use of “Gang Related Violence” injunctions (GANGBOs); hinted that if current sentencing powers were not sufficiently tough to deal with rioters, he would legislate to increase them; and launched a prolonged attack on the Human Rights Act 1998 (HRA).

Dispersal powers, curfew and face coverings

While Liberty appreciates the inevitable pressure felt by political leaders during times of unrest, we are largely disappointed by the response. As we have explained above, the individual “law and order” policy proposals the Prime Minister suggested bore very little logical connection to the particular challenge that the police faced over the duration of the riots. Current dispersal powers are already broadly defined—the reality is that someone who is prepared to commit violence, theft and criminal damage is unlikely to take notice of a police request to leave the area. Similarly, in a riot situation, the ability of the police to enforce a general curfew or the usefulness of a general power to require the removal of face coverings is highly questionable. As to the latter, section 60 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act (CJPOA) enables an officer of or above the rank of inspector to authorise searches for weapons or dangerous instruments without reasonable suspicion. Criteria relating to serious violence must be met and the authorisation can only be given within a specified area for a specified period of time. Once a section 60 authorisation is in place, section 60AA CJPOA enables a similar authorisation to be given permitting constables to require the removal of face coverings if the constable reasonably believes these are worn wholly or mainly for the purpose of concealing identity. A person refusing to remove his or her face covering when requested to do so risks imprisonment for up to a month or a fine. Unless the Government is of the view that the riots did not meet the necessary criteria for a section 60 authorisation, it is difficult to see how further powers to require the removal of face coverings could be needed. In any event, as noted above, the usefulness of such a power in riot circumstances is questionable.

Social networking

Plans to grant new powers to close social networking sights such as Facebook and Twitter now appear to have been abandoned. This is to be welcomed and the Government congratulated for not continuing down this wrong-headed path. In the wake of the Government’s initial suggestion, parallels with preventative censorship often adopted or attempted to be adopted by the authorities in China, Iran and other authoritarian regimes were, quite rightly, not lost on the public. Supporting the realisation of human rights overseas while threatening to close Facebook at home is an uncomfortable position for any Government.

Principle aside, shutting down entire phone and social media networks—punishing innocent users and those warning others of violence—is as useless as it is disproportionate. After all, the current legislative framework provides the police with a number of relevant and intrusive powers to monitor and bring to justice those committing criminal acts online. As post-riot convictions have shown, inciting violence whether from your computer or a megaphone has long been a serious criminal offence. Closing networks could therefore easily interfere with the police’s ability to gather intelligence and information on those inciting or organising violence, hampering efforts to investigate, prosecute and convict those responsible for wrongdoing. In any event, the effectiveness of stalling communications between potential rioters by shutting down networks should not be overestimated. There will always be another way to communicate. At the same time, the role of social media in the riots must not be overplayed. Even if social media played its part in the shocking spread of violence earlier this month, what about the rolling news channels with their constant images of where and how the disorder was spreading? Unsurprisingly the Government did not suggest that we should have routine news blackouts as well and there may well be a generational explanation for this. Fears about new forms of communication are, of course, not new. The printing press, the wireless and the creation of the internet itself all brought fears about the possibilities of greater communication in their day. Following the events of last month, it was perhaps not unexpected that the newest type of innovation—social networking—was the focus of concern. However, Liberty urges parliamentarians to remember that while many people indulge in social media for light PR and light relief, to a younger generation such communications are as fundamental as newspapers and radio. Shutting down these networks for anything short of a national emergency or invasion by an enemy power, is the modern equivalent of blocking TV signals and interfering with the postal system.

Eviction of council tenants

Much has been made, including by the Housing Minister, of the possibility of evicting those involved in looting and disorder from social housing. Councils have long had powers to remove tenants where they are implicated in, for example, anti-social behaviour or damage to property in their locality, however a decision to evict lies ultimately with the courts. Liberty believes that evictions based on the criminality, or alleged anti-social behaviour of council tenants, are counter-productive when applied even to those genuinely involved in misconduct and have a devastating impact on family members, including children, who are in no way implicated in offending behaviour.

Where criminality is serious enough, the courts already have the power to remove somebody from their home by imprisoning them. For less serious offending it is difficult to see how making people homeless and placing responsibility on local authorities to find alternative accommodation will have any positive impact. Further, whilst the criminality we witnessed across the UK last month is attributable to a complex array of factors, on any common sense analysis, removing housing and other forms of basic support from those already at the margins in our society will increase social exclusion, exacerbating the problems that accompany it.

Increased use of Gang injunctions

“Gangbos” were created in the Policing and Crime Act 2009 and brought into force in February this year. They are civil orders that can be granted by the civil courts if the local council or the police can show there is a 50/50 chance that a person has engaged in, encouraged or assisted gang-related violence and is the injunction is thought necessary either to prevent repetitive behaviour or for their own protection. This shockingly low threshold aims to get around burden-of-proof safeguards developed by the courts in Anti-Social Behaviour Order (ASBO) litigation. What constitutes a “gang” is clumsy and vaguely defined in the 2009 Act, and “violence” includes the threat of violence, minor property damage and graffiti. The conditions that can be imposed far outstrip ASBO punishments and can restrict a person’s movement, who they can associate with, times they can be out in public, even the clothing they wear and pets they keep. Conditions can require a person to be in a certain place for up to eight hours—a curfew through the backdoor—and can last indefinitely. Breach of the injunction restrictions is contempt of court and can result in a hefty fine or two years behind bars. The seriousness of such consequences is even more abhorrent when one considers that all these restrictions can be imposed without the need for police arrest, prosecution or conviction.

Compelling evidence from American cities shows that similar measures in place since the 1980s have displaced, rather than reduced, gang activity. Discrimination and stigmatising of minority ethnic groups has simultaneously increased and academic studies have concluded that the targeted use of traditional policing methods is more effective than injunctions at dealing with gang violence. Furthermore, evidence from the UK already shows that measures in place to tackle gangs have similarly targeted and discriminated against minority ethnic children. We already know of a young black teenager who was suspended from school after the police informed the school that he was a gang member. He had no involvement in gang activities, wanted to study law at university, and had previously expressed anti-gang sentiments. The increased use of Gangbos will likely exacerbate this trend of targeting young people based on stereotypes rather than evidence. Indeed evidence already given by the Home Secretary to the Committee indicates that what underlay the riots was criminality and involvement of gangs in the riots was possibly “not as high as the government first thought”. Accordingly Liberty cautions any rush to use these extremely restrictive measures without cause or reason which will have damaging unintended consequences. Those caught up in this new system will inevitably be the younger brothers or cousins of gang members or those who are just unfortunate enough to live in areas indentified as gang “hotspots”. As stereotype replaces criminal suspicion, those most vulnerable to gang influence will be branded and treated as criminals instead of being given the support they need. While ASBOs are messy and counterproductive they do not, at least, aim to deal with serious criminality. Troublingly, this is not true of Gangbos which, while intending to target people suspected of serious crimes such as stabbings, shootings and violent robberies, will sweep up the innocent with the guilty. Civil injunction is surely no substitute for the full force of the criminal law in dealing with real gang violence.

Sentencing

In a statement to Parliament on 11 August, the Prime Minister made clear his view that “anyone charged with violent disorder and other serious offences should expect to be remanded in custody, not let back on the streets; and anyone convicted should expect to go to jail.” It is a matter of fundamental constitutional importance that our judiciary is independent of the executive with political influence over judges avoided at all costs. Even-handed sentencing by judicial decision makers, who are uniquely well-placed to assess all material considerations and divorced from political pressures, is a crucial aspect of due process in the criminal justice system. On this basis Liberty questions the appropriateness of any statement which can be read as an attempt to infuse criminal proceedings with distinctly political considerations. We have a series of public order offences, such as violent disorder, riot and affray, designed to capture the particular harm caused by the unrest such as that which broke out across the country last month. In the context of offences such as theft, sentencing guidelines provide for harsher sentences for those acting as part of a group or gang. Unfortunately we have seen a number of recent examples of politicians, including some in Government, displaying a willingness to dispense with the constitutional bulwark of judicial independence. In the toxic debate over prisoner voting we saw many attacks, on the decisions of “unelected judges”, sending worrying signals about the Government’s commitment to the Rule of Law. It is ironic that at a time when politicians and others are rightly condemning lawlessness, there is reluctance by some to accept the need for a strong, robust and independent judiciary to hold those guilty of criminality to account.

Attacks on the Human Rights Act

Most disappointing however was the ease with which the Prime Minister returned to a favourite populist cry—the need to repeal the Human Rights Act. This tired theme featured in his first public statements on the riots on 9 August where he said that “phoney human rights concerns” would not get in the way of police efforts to publish CCTV images of suspected riots. This widespread myth—that Article 8 of the HRA can prevent the publication of photos of wanted suspects—dates back to January 2007 when the Daily Mail reported that a Chief Constable was “refusing to release pictures of two escaped murderers amid fears it might breach their human rights”. The paper claimed that the Derbyshire police force had refused to release pictures of two convicted murderers who had escaped from prison because the police force had to have regard to the HRA. The Sun also ran the story with the inflammatory headline: “What about OUR rights”. The following month, the Sun ran the story again quoting a North East Conservative MP claiming that “this is yet another instance of the rights of suspected criminals being put before those of the law-abiding population”. And so the myth gathers pace. The truth is that the HRA does not prevent pictures from being published in order to help find a fugitive. This has been tested in a case which concerned a decision by the London Borough of Brent and the Metropolitan police to distribute leaflets and to publicise other material carrying the claimants’ images, names and ages, and details of ASBOs issued against them. In the case, Kennedy L J held that the publicity did not infringe the claimants’ Article 8 rights, saying that:

It is clear to me that whether publicity is intended to inform, to reassure, to assist in enforcing the existing orders by policing, to inhibit the behaviour of those against whom the orders have been made, or to deter others, it is unlikely to be effective unless it includes photographs, names and at least partial addresses. Not only do the readers need to know against whom orders have been made, but those responsible for publicity must leave no room for mis-identification. As to the remainder of the content of any publicity, that must depend upon the facts of the case.

Contrary to what the Prime Minister appeared to imply, it is perfectly permissible under the HRA to publish pictures of wanted suspects. The Prime Minister returned to this theme in his statement to Parliament on the 11 August where he lamented “a culture” that “says everything about rights but nothing about responsibilities”. This message was reinforced in his speech in Witney on 15 August where he attacked the “twisting and misrepresentation of human rights”, linking the attitude of rioters to the existence of the HRA. The trashing of the HRA culminated in an opinion piece by the Prime Minister in the Daily Express on 21 August entitled “Human Rights in my sights” in which he vowed to “fight back” which:

also means rebuilding the sense of personal responsibility that has been eroded over the years by many things, from the welfare system where work doesn’t pay to the twisting and misrepresenting of human rights. The British people have fought and died for people’s rights to freedom and dignity but they did not fight so that people did not have to take full responsibility for their actions. So though it won’t be easy, though it will mean taking on parts of the establishment, I am determined we get a grip on the misrepresentation of human rights. We are looking at creating our own British Bill of Rights. We are going to fight in Europe for changes to the way the European Court works and we will fight to ensure people understand the real scope of these rights and do not use them as cover for rules or excuses that fly in the face of common sense.

Needless to say, at no point in any of his various attacks on the HRA did the PM point to a concrete example of how the HRA might be responsible for undermining personal responsibility or the outbreak of violence in our cities. This is unsurprising as the HRA expressly protects private property as well as personal safety. Nevertheless, his high profile attacks on the HRA sparked a flurry of media debate and discussion about the possibility of repealing the Act. The idea that the HRA somehow provides unfettered and limitless rights without any corresponding responsibilities is, of course, nonsense. Respect for the rights of others is built into the Act and rights can be limited for a number of legitimate reasons including public safety and national security. Further, the statute book is full of laws that we must all obey or face the consequences. The HRA is one of the very few pieces of legislation that allows individuals to hold the State to account. The false dichotomy of human rights versus “common sense” is easy to present when you are attributing to it colourful claims that have been argued but thrown out of court or attempted claims that have not even made it to the court door. The truth is that the Act is invariably responsible for “common sense” decisions. It is after all common sense that rape victims shouldn’t have to be cross-examined by their attackers; that local councils shouldn’t be able to use targeted surveillance to police school catchment areas; that a mother should be granted an inquest into her daughter’s murder that resulted from a prisoner being released too early. All of these outcomes and very many more have been achieved through the use of the ECHR and the HRA. The depressingly familiar criticism that the Act has created a “soft” culture within public bodies again comes without evidence or full explanation. And if true, this surely points to a need for better public education and training rather than repeal.

The Prime Minister is of course right that previous generations fought and died to secure the freedoms contained in the HRA for future generations. These hard won British freedoms were exported to the rest of Europe when, in the wake of the Holocaust, the Council of Europe drew up the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) with the help of British lawyers. The HRA incorporates the ECHR into UK law and allows British judges to adjudicate its values rather than requiring British citizens and residents to take human rights challenges straight to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. When, on the basis of myth and popular misunderstanding, the Prime Minister so casually denigrates the Act and its values he does a grave disservice to the sacrifice of earlier generations.

The Prime Minister’s comments were in stark contrast to those of ACPO President, Sir Hugh Orde, who robustly defended the role of human rights in public order policing, writing in the days that followed the rioting that:

Equally, to suggest human rights get in the way of effective policing is simply wrong. The proportionate use of force up to and including lethal force is both lawful and human rights compliant.

Police Accountability

In the wake of the riots, members of the Government have spoken often about plans for directly elected Police and Crime Commissioners—one of the Prime Minister’s flagship policies—as part of the solution to the disorder. The proposal contained in the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill, has already been subject to scrutiny by the Home Affairs Select Committee and recently subject to a significant revolt in the House of Lords. In his piece in the Daily Express in response to the riots the Prime Minister wrote:

We need a stronger presence on the streets, deterring crime and catching criminals instead of filling in forms or wasting time on phony targets. That is what people want. That is why elected Police and Crime Commissioners is a powerful idea; they will make policing more responsive to what the people in your neighbourhood need, to keep you safe.

Liberty believes that the Government would do well to re-examine this revolutionary reform. As several MPs pointed out in the emergency debate on the riots on the 11 August, plans for directly elected Police and Crime Commissioners come at an increased cost to the public purse and risk worsening police credibility and community relations. The policy is largely an import from the USA where political “sheriffs” have overseen endemic corruption and damaged race relations. As tensions have simmered in our towns and cities, and as politicians have sought to explain the events, the political independence of the police has meant that expertise, and not partisanship, has led the response. At times of strife and civil disorder it is more important than ever that the police act and are seen to act, as independent professionals, applying the law in a firm but even handed way. If the British model of policing is reformed in the way proposed, the operational independence of the police would be badly undermined. Independent police leadership during times of unrest would not be guaranteed in similar circumstances in the future.

September 2011

Prepared 22nd December 2011