Manifesto promises – party political pledges on law and justice
Posted on 4th May 2015 in Uncategorised
What do the politicians promise on law and justice? Or to ask a more pertinent question, what promises on law and justice can we expect to see the various parties break on coming to, or sharing in, power?
This post covers three main parties: Conservative, Liberal Democrat, and Labour, plus two emergent players, UKIP and Green.
The manifestoes have been presented in the order in which these relevant parties may be held, currently, to exert power or influence. All this may change after 7 May, but until the music stops this is how the chairs are set out.
The Scottish Nationalist (or separatist) Party is not included because their influence over the law of England and Wales is likely to be minimal. (If I hear otherwise, I may add something.)
Comparing the manifestoes, what’s interesting is how the different parties present law and justice in terms of something positive (opportunities, rights) or something negative (fighting and protecting people against threats, real or imagined). By and large, it’s the big main parties who present themselves as heroic defenders of our embattled isles, while the smaller parties offer a more positive, optimistic (perhaps unrealistic) outlook. The exception to this rule is UKIP who fall firmly into the “anti” camp.
The Tories set out their commitments on law and justice under the banner of “Fighting crime and standing up for victims”. There’s also a section headed “Preventing terrorism, countering extremism.”
The key proposals affecting law and justice are as follows:
- To speed up justice, extend the use of police-led prosecutions
- Expand the number of volunteer “Cyber Specials” to deal with cyber crime
- Improve the diversity of police recruitment
- Overhaul the police complaints system
- Develop a modern crime prevention strategy to address the key drivers of crime
- Overhaul the system of police cautions, and ensure conditions such as victim redress are attached to any punishment
- Ban psychoactive substances known as legal highs
- Strengthen victim’s rights with a new Victims’ Law
- Deploy new technology to monitor offenders in the community
- Introduce a new semi-custodial sentence for prolific criminals
- Extend the scope of the Unduly Lenient Scheme to tackle cases where judges get sentencing wrong
- Review the legislation on hate crime
- Update counter-terrorism laws wherever necessary to make sure they properly reflect the threats we face
The bombshell pledge, though, has not gone away, despite speculation that it might have been back-burnered:
The next Conservative Government will scrap the Human Rights Act, and introduce a British Bill of Rights. This will break the formal link between British courts and the European Court of Human Rights, and make our own Supreme Court the ultimate arbiter of human rights matters in the UK.
And then, the elephant in the room:
We will continue to review our legal aid systems, so they can continue to provide access to justice in an efficient way.
Two sections of the Lib Dem manifesto are relevant. The one entitled Freedom and Opportunity is subtitled Equal Rights for All and asserts that “true security for individuals and for our nation must be built on a platform of equal rights and civil liberties.” The other is Policing, justice and the border force.
The key proposals affecting law and justice are as follows:
- A Digital Bill of Rights, to enshrine the digital rights of the citizen, including the right to use encryption.
- A (second) Freedoms Act to tighten up rules on CCTV, DNA storage, “kettling” of demos, strengthen the Freedom of Information Act by ending ministerial veto, and “cut back on the petty over-regulation of everyday life”.
- Support for net neutrality and opposition to the so-called Snoopers’ Charter (Communications Data Bill requiring comms companies to record and store internet activity for surveillance purposes).
- Changes to the Data Protection Act 1998 to improve the balance between privacy and the public interest
- To guarantee press freedom,
- a British ‘First Amendment’ law, to require the authorities and the courts to have regard to the importance of a free media in a democratic society.
- Introduction of statutory public interest defences where journalists need to break the law to expose corruption or other criminality.
- Ensure judicial authorisation is required for the disclosure of journalists’ sources
- Implementation of remaining sections of Equality Act 2010
- Scrap Police and Crime Commissioners, introduce specialist drug courts, “end FGM at home and abroad in a generation”, teach sexual consent in schools and crack down on domestic violence.
- A Victim’s Bill of Rights and create a national helpline for victims.
Then, finally, addressing the elephant in the room, a promise to:
Carry out an immediate review of civil Legal Aid, judicial review and court fees, in consultation with the judiciary, to ensure Legal Aid is available to all those who need it, that those of modest means can bring applications for judicial review of allegedly unlawful government action and that court and tribunal fees will not put justice beyond the reach of those who seek it. This will mean reversing any recent rises in up-front court fees that make justice unaffordable for many, and instead spreading the fee burden more fairly.
Labour’s plans for dealing with crime and justice come under the banner of “Safer communities”. Painting a picture of “fear and insecurity”, they promise to provide the protections necessary for us to “live happy and fulfilled lives”.
Key promises include:
- Protection of neighbourhood policing
- Abolition of Police and Crime Commissioners, replacing them with a new statutory Local Policing Commitment
- Police and prison officers will all need to be Chartered officers, regulated as such and able to be struck off for misconduct
- A new Police Standards Authority to replace the discredited Independent Police Complaints Commission
- New approach to sentencing with more emphasis on restorative justice and payback orders rather than cautions
- Better integration of health, police, probation services and local authorities to deal with drug problems, child protection and youth crime
- Enact a Victim’s Law to give victims a voice and minimum standards of service from the criminal justice system
- Publish a Violence against Women and Girls Bill, appoint a commissioner to set minimum standards in tackling domestic and sexual violence
- Change law on DNA evidence retention, so rape suspects’ DNA will be recorded and stored
- Stronger powers for the security services to deal with terrorism
- Update investigative laws to deal with new technology, strengthening both the powers available and the safeguards of personal privacy
- Zero-tolerance approach to religious hate-crime and stronger laws against disability, homophobic and transphobic hate-crime.
- Reduce discrimination by requiring large companies to public gender pay gap information and strengthen the law against maternity discrimination, if necessary enforcing relevant provisions within the Equality Act.
- Reforming rather than walking away from the European Court of Human Rights.
- Protect media plurality and implement the recommendations of the Leveson inquiry.
And in relation to that elephant in the room:
We will make sure that access to legal representation, a cornerstone of our democracy, is not determined by personal wealth, but remains available to those that need it.
The fundamental policy plank – indeed its raison d’être, if one can use such a foreign phrase – of UKIP is the urge to exit the European Union (or “Brexit” as they put it in their manifesto), so a good deal of their policies are predicated on that assumption. Bearing that in mind…
UKIP’s main law and justice proposals are:
- Remove the UK from the jurisdiction of the European Court of Human Rights, leaving the UK Supreme Court to act as the final authority on matters of Human Rights.
- Replace Labour’s Human Rights legislation (including the Human Rights Act 1998) with a new, consolidated UK Bill of Rights.
- Reverse the opt-in to EU law and justice measures which disregard the principle of innocent until proven guilty, including the European Arrest Warrant and European Investigation Orders
- Deport foreign criminals and prevent those with criminal records from entering Britain
- Reduce the number of Police and Crime Commissioners and reduce the number of territorial constabularies to increase efficiency
- Ensure Britain’s police forces comply with the law and do not retain booking photographs, fingerprints, DNA, or biometric data of individuals who have not been convicted of a crime
- Review of what constitutes a criminal offence (in relation to things like domestic violence, slavery etc)
- Review of sentencing and rehabilitation
- Zero tolerance of child abuse and all cultural practices that are illegal or conflict with British values and customs, such as forced marriages, FGM and honour killings
- Free up prison places by deporting foreign criminals and building new jails
- An education covenant for prisoners before being released
- Review the Family Court system, with the intention of implementing independent lay oversight of Family Courts
Finally, there is no elephant. There is no legal aid. (The words are not mentioned once in the entire manifesto PDF.)
In their manifesto the Greens promise a “New constitutional settlement” to address the problems caused by our backward-looking parliamentary democracy and increase the decentralisation of power. They also support the world of open, freely flowing information, without unaccountable surveillance by protecting rights to privacy and intellectual property. There are some imaginative proposals on crime and justice (which we discussed at the time of the Green’s annual conference in Weekly Notes – 6 March) And the manifesto ends with a “financial appendix” to show that their figures do, after all (and after the barracking they’ve had) add up.
Key commitments on law and justice include:
- A written constitution with a Bill of Rights
- Retain the Human Rights Act and membership of the European Convention
- Make equality before the law a fundamental human right.
- Replace the Investigatory Powers Act 2000
- Support and protect Internet freedom
- Support the EU’s proposals to strengthen data protection laws against opposition from US data-driven companies
- Make copyright shorter in length, fair and flexible, and prevent patents applying to software.
- Introduce a more satisfactory law to deal with malicious comments on social media
- Oppose the privatisation and sale of personal data
- Abolish Police and Crime Commissioners and return control of policing to local authorities
- Focus on crime prevention measures, with more community policing and return of bus conductors and others who have an effect on social order
- Oppose privatisation of probation services
- Improve rehabilitation of prisoners and give them the vote
- Expand use of restorative justice
On that elephant in the room? Full marks!
[Equality before the law] is only a reality if all can afford to use the law. We would restore the cuts to Legal Aid, costing around £700m per year.
In the last few days, the daily diet of open letters to the newspapers from rent-a-crowd sackfuls of banks, businesses, military top brass, universities, public sector workers and other special interest groups, offering dire warnings of the consequences of voting one way or another, has been enhanced by one from a bunch of “top judges”, peers, circuit leaders, and other top lawyers, which appeared recently in The Guardian.
One daren’t be too rude about this, but frankly one does wonder what good it may do. Electoral pulpit-thumping by the churches (and charities) has long been outlawed (see Erlam v Rahman  EWHC 1215 (QB), as discussed in the latest Weekly Notes) and it seems hard to see why feelings of guilt and fears of national catastrophe issued by or in the media should escape the ban on “undue influence” in section 115 of the Representation of the People Act 1983.
All that said, this energetic little video made by the Legal Aid Team, entitled Saving Legal Aid is worth a look.