Brian Sims

Government heralds justice overhaul to better protect public and back police

CUTTING CRIME and building safer communities is at the heart of new legislation recently unveiled in Parliament as the Conservative Government duly delivers on its pledge to restore confidence in the criminal justice system.

The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill seeks to equip the police service with the powers and tools necessary to protect the public, while also overhauling sentencing laws to keep serious violent offenders behind bars for longer and placing greater emphasis on rehabilitation to better help offenders to turn their lives around and prevent further crimes.

New court orders will boost efforts to crack down on knife crime, as well as make it easier to Stop and Search those individuals suspected of carrying a blade. New laws will also enable the police to better tackle unauthorised encampments and safely manage protests where they threaten public order or stop others from continuing with their daily lives.

The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill will also enshrine a Police Covenant in law, strengthening the support received by serving and retired officers, staff and their families. In addition, maximum penalties will be doubled from 12 months to two years for those who assault police officers or other Emergency Services workers (such as prison officers, Fire and Rescue Service personnel or frontline health workers), thereby further helping to protect those who put their lives on the line to keep communities safe.

Other sentencing reforms – first outlined in a landmark Government White Paper last year – will also be brought into legislation to ensure punishments fit the severity of crimes. These include Whole Life Orders (WLOs) for child killers, with Judges also allowed to impose this punishment on those aged between 18 and 20 when cases are deemed to be exceptional (for example, acts of terrorism which cause mass loss of life).

Delivering swifter justice

Lord Chancellor and Justice Secretary Robert Buckland QC said: “This Government has pledged to crack down on crime and build safer communities. We are delivering on that commitment. We’re giving the police and the courts the powers they need to keep our streets safe, while at the same time providing greater opportunities for offenders to turn their lives around and better contribute towards society.”

Buckland added: “We’re also investing hundreds of millions of pounds to deliver speedier justice and boost support for the victims of crime. In short, we will continue to do everything it takes to build back confidence in the criminal justice system.”

Home Secretary Priti Patel explained: “On becoming Home Secretary, I vowed to back the police service to cut crime and make our streets safer. This Bill delivers on that promise, equipping the police with the tools they need to stop violent criminals in their tracks, putting the thugs who assault officers behind bars for longer and strengthening the support officers and their families receive.”

The Home Secretary continued: “The Government has already recruited over 6,600 of the additional 20,000 officers we want to bring into the police service and every single one of them has my full support. The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill enshrines my commitment to those brave officers who put themselves in danger to keep the rest of us safe.”

Further changes will see tougher penalties for those who vandalise memorials and a statutory duty placed on local authorities and criminal justice agencies to tackle serious violence through better sharing of data and intelligence.

The legislation builds on extensive work already underway to deliver a smarter and fairer justice system as the country builds back safer from the pandemic. This includes hundreds of millions of pounds being invested in the courts to deliver speedier justice and reduce court delays, unprecedented funding for victim support services, the aforementioned recruitment of an additional 20,000 police officers and a £4 billion investment in extra prison places.

Confidence in the system

David Lloyd, lead on criminal justice at the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners. observed: “The public needs to have confidence in the criminal justice system or else they will lose faith in reporting crime. By ensuring that those who commit the most serious violent crimes spend the bulk of their sentences in prison, we send a clear message that we’re on the side of victims.”

Lloyd went on to state: “We must look to reduce re-offending through more effective community sentences for lower-level offenders where and when they are appropriate.”

The Government is reforming the criminal records disclosure process to reduce the time period people have to declare previous non-violent, sexual or terrorist convictions to employers (covering both adult and youth offences along the way). Tougher community sentences will double the amount of time offenders can be subject to curfew restrictions to two years.

The Government is also enshrining open justice principles by allowing for remote observers – using video and audio technology – across the majority of the courts and tribunals, in turn improving public access and transparency.

New protections and powers

Serious Violence Reduction Orders see new Stop and Search powers against convicted knife offensive weapons offenders designed to ensure offenders are steered away from crime. If they persist in carrying a knife or an offensive weapon, they’re more likely to be caught and put in prison.

A legal duty is to be placed on local authorities, the police service, criminal justice agencies, health and Fire and Rescue Services to tackle serious violence through sharing data and intelligence.

There’s also going to be a new law to allow police to obtain a search warrant for evidence related to the location of human remains where it’s not possible to bring about a prosecution (for example where a suspect is dead, unfit to plead or has already been convicted of the offence in the absence of a body).

Police powers will be strengthened in order to tackle non-violent protests that have a significant disruptive effect on the public or on access to Parliament. The Government is also reforming pre-charge bail to better protect vulnerable victims and witnesses. Known as Kay’s Law, this will place the victims of crime at the very heart of police service decision-making and support the timely progression of investigations.

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