15 Oct 2007

'Bobbies Are Not Natural Bureaucrats'

Police Oracle: Met Police Commissioner Sir Ian Blair has outlined how criminal justice processes could be changed to reduce excessive bureaucracy in policing...

Really? A large proportion of our 'bureaucratic process' actually originates from our leaders! It's my intention to comment further however for now I'll just reproduce it in full for those who haven't seen or heard it yet (see below):

'Actually, Bobbies Are Not Natural Bureaucrats'

When I wrote this speech last week, I was concerned that I might be accused of entering the political fray at the start of a General Election. However, even had there been an election, I thought I was going to be able to say this morning what I had planned because if there is one thing that all the political parties are united around about policing, it is to try to cut down on bureaucracy. I want to cut down on bureaucracy as well.
However, I think that some politicians and media commentators think there is so much bureaucracy because police like it, feel comfortable with it, or are lost without it. That is not the case at all. History shows us that because the service that I joined, over thirty years ago, it was a very unbureacratic place. I would like it to get back there.

Were we to return to the time I joined, to the time of "Life on Mars", we would, of course, be struck by the casual racism and sexism which made all the headlines about that programme: what would really strike us much more, however, would be the ability of the police to deal quickly with matters of criminal justice.

On bureaucracy in the police as a whole - to deal with that just for a moment - discussion about cutting down on the number of forms misses the point. Of course, we need lots of different forms for different purposes. The need is to get antiquated IT systems to transfer data, so it is only keyed in once. Some of those IT systems are inside the police service, some of them connect to other services. It is a long term enterprise and, certainly in the Met, much progress is being made. Until that progress is complete, however, police officers and police staff will have to key in
that information.

That is not the point of this brief address, however, because not all bureaucracy is unnecessary. Most of the information being input by police needs to be recorded, even if preferably only once. In the case of the Criminal Justice system, however, uniquely, whole swathes of information are
recorded which do not need to be. Let us assume for a moment that every criminal case is an animal. As it stands, the law treats them as if they are all the same animal and a very large and very dangerous animal at that. So, irrespective of whether the case is a mad bull elephant or a small pesky chicken, the law treats it just the same.

This is the consequence of the Criminal Justice reforms introduced by the 1977 Royal Commission on Criminal Procedure. This, in turn, was carried out after a series of scandals, most notably the conviction of three youths for the murder of Maxwell Confait in 1972, convictions that were found to be palpably unsafe because they were based on confessions made after long
periods of detention, accompanied by allegations of brutality. Many other cases followed, including, of course, the Birmingham Six and the Guildford Four. But in the reforms that followed, aimed at eradicating brutality, limiting periods of detention and introducing access to legal advice, the Police and Criminal Evidence Act treated all cases the same. This was followed by the Criminal Procedures and Investigations Act known as CPIA, which regulated the rules of disclosure - and treated all cases the same. This has been followed by the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act, which has regulated surveillance and other aspects of covert policing - treating all cases the same. The Criminal Justice Act 2003 then took away from the police their powers to charge, in all but the most trivial cases.

What this means is that, while I could, as a young constable, make three arrests for entirely unconnected offences in a single tour of duty and process them without overtime, it now takes two officers the whole tour of duty to process one, however minor, if that case is going to be presented to the Crown Prosecution Service and the court. It is precisely this, which leads police officers to use fixed penalty notices, thereby avoiding the entire charging and court process.

This is absolutely ridiculous. What we need is a bonfire, onto which we throw the unnecessary regulation of policing and investigation in a measured, intelligent way. We should have completely different rules of disclosure for minor offences. We should open up the provisions of RIPA to less serious cases but cut down on the complexity of the authorisation required by RIPA.

We should have very tight regulations for dealing with the cases that are "mad bull elephants", with murder and rape and conspiracy to commit terrorist offences and for those offences with grave consequences for reputations such as allegations of child sex abuse. For common assault, for shoplifting, for some minor deception, however, we need very light regulations indeed. It should not be for the prosecution to seek out all the possible evidence that could be obtained in such cases: it should be for them to provide simply sufficient evidence for a prosecution to succeed. There is no reason why, in the case of a minor assault, where there are witnesses and medical evidence, the police should spend time being required to search for CCTV evidence. We need to return to summary justice being summary: something, which is quick and straightforward. We need a wholesale revamping of the regulations to get police officers out on the streets where they belong, as the papers are calling for this very morning. Such reforms would also shorten summary trials, by stopping that branch of defence criminal justice which seeks to challenge process rather than evidence.

We are making progress. Many of these views are supported by the senior judiciary. Here in London, in partnership with the CPS, we have introduced a shortened file for cases for trial in magistrates' courts where there is an anticipation of a guilty plea. This is based on a summary of evidence and saves two hours per officer per case. With the support of the Director of Public Prosecutions and the London Chief Crown Prosecutor, it will now roll out across London, saving tens of thousands of hours of police time. It is to the credit of The London Criminal Justice Partnership that, should a defendant plead not guilty, only sufficient evidence for the case to be
effectively tried will be required. This will further reduce the paperwork. These changes will need support across the entire justice system: there will be interests both principled and vested who will be opposed. These reforms need to move quickly out of London. A further issue of contradiction is the current performance regime under which the CPS works. This punishes those cases, which have been charged but do not end in conviction. This means that prosecutors constantly seek far more evidence than is necessary to make a charging decision, which wastes a lot more time. These perverse incentives, which increase the paperwork burden, need to be removed.

What this means is that those who are framing and administering summary criminal justice need to have courage.

And there is one particular basis on which they can do that. That is that the culture of the police service has changed out of all recognition, over the last 30 years. In any large organisation, there will always be people who behave badly but there is just no evidence at all of a widespread
culture of police misbehaviour, of, as it was called, the "fitting up" of suspects, the fabrication of confessions: the police service is clean. As my predecessor, Paul Condon, said in another context - about corruption - "the Met is the cleanest big city force in the world". I think that applies to the police service in England and Wales generally, to a professional, well-trained, well-paid service, which is interested in truth and justice.

However, we also have some things to do and I do not think we should only look at the speck in someone else's eye but at a rather large chip in the police's own. The police service has some further work to do outside criminal justice. It has to overhaul its extraordinarily complicated method of recording crimes, the National Crime Recording Standard and its equally ill-visaged sister, the National Standard for Incident Recording, which is coming up on the rails. It is a well know adage that the best is often the enemy of the good. It is these standards that have led to all those stories being reported about crimes being recorded for throwing chips in the street. It is these standards that have effectively abolished the offence of aggravated burglary. It used to be one - very serious - offence for somebody to break into a house with a gun and take a pile of jewellery and possessions off everybody in there. It isn't now, it's a series of individual robberies - one for each victim - has now to be recorded which is just arrant nonsense which misleads our intelligence picture of such crimes. We need to be bold and change this whole mindset. From the recording of crime to the appearance of defendants in court, we need to reduce the cost of administration.

So, what do I want out of criminal justice? I think it needs to be as transparent as possible, it needs to embrace whatever new technologies we can find for it, including the virtual courts now being experimented here in London, although I hope Ron de Witt will contradict me later, I will not hold my breath for the integration of criminal justice information technology systems. It needs continually to increase its level of customer care, so that we can increase confidence in the administration of justice, which is a fundamental duty of government. Here in London, confidence is the highest in the whole country, but it is only 47%.

Above all, it needs to be a system which listens to the public and to the concerns of that public. It needs to be local. Bringing those things together means that the agencies involved need to work together and I want to tell you about one way in which we are doing this in London. In this city, one pre-eminent public concern is the propensity of young people to use violence on one another. The dreadful murder of Rizwan Darbar on Monday is an example. A single stab wound, a life snuffed out.

We have to stop the growing incidence of weapons being carried on our streets. We already have extensive laws in relation to guns, although more will probably have to be done. However, the carrying of knives and other offensive weapons, particularly by young people, is much more common and, potentially, just as deadly. I believe that everyone, anyone, carrying a knife or similar weapon on the streets of London should appear in court. It should be for the court to determine what punishment will follow. This does not necessarily mean prison but it does mean that everyone who carries a knife, and is caught doing so, should appear in front of an appropriate court and understand, through that process, the severity of what they have done and the possible consequences of carrying such things in public, not only to others but also themselves.

The rules on which a decision to caution rather than charge are not a matter for the police but for the CPS. In the last 12 months in this city, 565 adults and 228 youth offenders have been cautioned in London for these offences. That is about a quarter of offenders in each category, although that rises to half for possession of offensive weapons. I find that totally unacceptable.

I am pleased to say that the Metropolitan Police has now reached agreement with the Chief Crown Prosecutor for London over this issue in relation to adults. The Chief Crown Prosecutor's new guidance makes clear that, where sufficient evidence of an offence of possession of a bladed article or other offensive weapon, it will normally be in the public interest to charge. In the case of youth offending, the situation is more complex because there are more agencies involved. However, I am now writing to the Youth Justice Board and to the Crown Prosecution Service, asking that a review be made of the situation in relation to young people.

I repeat that I am not asking that everyone who carries a knife goes to prison. I also know that there must be exceptions, such as foreign travellers transiting Heathrow, but what I want to see is that everyone who carries a knife or other offensive weapon on the streets of London knows
they are at risk of going to prison because they will be appearing in front of magistrates, rather than being cautioned. I think that is the right way forward and this kind of change represents the kind of awareness of public concerns that should be the hallmark of a criminal justice system which is visible, responsive and accountable.'

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Well I carry a knife regularly, but then I live right out in the country and work on the land in my spare time. It isn't a folding pocket knife, its got a 4" blade. I also carry axes, machetes and such like but am confident that I have a good legal reason for doing so when I do. Occasionally a shotgun as well.

And a Policeman too ! Of course where I work its not unusual to see people walking about with such tools - even guns - but I guess I work in a very different place.

Policing - Could you?

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