The government and the police

The government and the police

Margaret Thatcher’s priorities for the police were always clear. They were cosseted. Numbers, pay, overtime, the sky seemed to be the limit. Cynics would say that it was insurance for her contentious domestic policies, whether taking on the miners or introducing the poll tax.

David Cameron has been very different. It is almost as if he is determined to be confrontational, with swingeing cuts in budgets and numbers and a pay freeze. There have been critical speeches about police performance, culminating in the unseemly and very public spat about the initial reaction to the recent urban riots. Not to mention the blame game of the phone tapping scandal.

So there was perhaps an element of fence mending in home secretary Theresa May’s hastily arranged speech to police leaders on Tuesday. She went out of her way to praise the police for the handling of the riots. “We owe all police officers a debt of gratitude,” she said. “They risk their own safety day in, day out to protect ours. And I want to take this opportunity to pay tribute to our police leaders, who made those changes that led to the restoration of order on our streets. They worked tirelessly in leading their officers through a difficult time, and they deserve much credit for that.” But there was no resiling from the proposed cuts. “ The police are going to have to take their share of the burden. People often say there will be twenty per cent police cuts.  And that’s true”, she said.

The home secretary then dealt with extra powers for the police to deal with any future disturbances. In a key section of her speech she said: “We have already said that we will give the police new powers, including new gang injunctions for young people and the right to remove face coverings, as well as considering new curfew powers.  For example, under existing laws, there is no power to impose a general curfew in a particular area, and while curfew conditions can be placed on some offenders as part of their ASBO, criminal sentence or bail conditions, there are only limited powers to impose them on somebody under the age of sixteen.  Those are the sorts of changes we need to consider. So we will make sure the police have the powers they need.”

Apart from practical implications – can you imagine local curfews in Olympics year? – this approach has met with some opposition. Mairi Clare Rodgers, Director of Media Relations at Liberty, said that more inclusion, fairness and equal treatment before the law, not less, is the only way to build personal and social responsibility. Politicians should listen when police chiefs tell them that new powers – on curfews, dispersals and face-coverings – are unnecessary. “We fail to see how leaning on magistrates to lock up youngsters and evicting entire families – innocent siblings and all – from their homes – is justified. Crude spite is flawed, both in theory and practice, and will lead to more problems than it solves. Shutting down entire phone and social media networks – punishing innocent users and those warning others of violence – is as useless as it is disproportionate”, she said.

Maria Fort, of Big Brother Watch, said that, while individual curfews are acceptable, blanket curfews are more controversial. “It springs images of war-time suppression and martial law on societies.  Even in crises of public order, there is no justification for denying the general public such basic liberties, particularly when the vast majority of the public are law-abiding individuals.”

The full text of the home secretary’s speech can be found at:
http://www.homeoffice.gov.uk/media-centre/speeches/urgent-need-reform

Photo courtesy of nikolaasB’s photostream

This post was written by:

- who has written 462 posts on Upper Case – The Anya Legal Journal.

Mike Gribbin is a retired Civil Servant with wide experience, including the drafting and implementation of Parliamentary legislation and regulations. He is the editor of “Criminal Offences Handbook”, a uniquely comprehensive guide to more than one thousand ways to fall foul of UK criminal law. He is Editor of the Upper Case Legal Journal and has been writing blog posts for the past eight years.

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