Scrutiny not slurs – politicalbetting.com 2
On Monday in Parliament the PM made an accusation against the Opposition leader, an accusation described as a “smear” by Julian Smith, ex-Northern Ireland Secretary, the Minister with the enviable record of being sacked for being good at his job. On Tuesday on the Today programme the Deputy PM and Justice Secretary, ironically (or so I hope) described by the interviewer as a “distinguished lawyer“, said that, while he did not have the evidence “to substantiate” the claim (neatly throwing the hospital pass back to his leader) it was right to scrutinise Sir Keir Starmer’s record as DPP.
Of course it is. Though in the spirit of pedantry so loved by many good lawyers and Dominic Raab, let me say at the outset that “lies” are not the same as “scrutiny“. Still, let’s do a bit of scrutiny – only of the record of the government, a Tory one, in power since 2010 – in relation to the investigation and prosecution of sexual offences against women and children, the culture of the police and the criminal justice system underpinning these.
Child Sexual Abuse Let’s start with the PM’s view of the work of IICSA, set up by his predecessor in July 2014. In March 2019 he complained about the £60 million “spaffed up the wall” on child abuse inquiries. IICSA has just issued another report about the attitude of local authorities and the police to child abuse and child grooming gangs. It is thoroughly depressing. In places as varied as Tower Hamlets and Bristol, Durham and Swansea the same culture of denial and failure to act exists. Despite all the previous reports, all the lessons there to be learned, all the recommendations, nothing – it seems – has really changed. Maybe the change needed might be a tad easier if the PM took any of this seriously. Child abuse was not committed decades ago by one seedy entertainer. It happens everywhere by lots of people – mostly men. It is not an excuse for a bit of knockabout Parliamentary banter. To have any chance of getting to grips with it, it needs some adults in the room and an adult as PM to make it a priority.
What about the criminal justice system? A few facts and figures will give an indication of how seriously this is taken by Tory governments:-
By 2020 the Ministry of Justice’s budget was 25% lower than it was in 2010-2011. Even the increase announced last autumn will not reverse this.
Between 2010 and 2019 half of all magistrates courts have been closed, most of them sold off.
At the end of Q2 2021 there were 60,962 cases waiting to be heard in the Crown Courts, an increase of 40% on the previous year. What this means is that defendants, victims and witnesses are waiting years before a trial. It is not uncommon for cases to be listed 2 or 3 years after someone has been charged, which can itself be months or years after the alleged crime. At the same time judges’ working hours have been cut so that courts sit unused for part of the week. Cuts in legal aid leading to a reduction of ca. 22% of junior criminal barristers and 50% of criminal QC’s have not helped. The delays are such that about 1/4 of all cases collapse because victims give up. The figure is ca. 44% for rape cases.
Over the years, there has been an increase in the number of rape cases that take more than 2 years to get to trial. Last year the PM did manage an apology for these “inadequacies“. Six months after this apology, the delays and the number of cases waiting to be tried were even worse. Only about 1.6% of rape allegations even lead to a charge. About 68% of these result in a conviction. Since 2017 the number of rapes alleged has increased while the number of convictions has nearly halved. Bluntly, if you commit rape, you have a very good chance indeed of getting away with it.
What of the police? So much could be written about them and has been. Look at the IOPC report on the culture of discrimination, misogyny, harassment and bullying by officers at Charing Cross Police Station – Operation Hotton – consisting of 9 separate investigations. The language and attitudes displayed are revolting. The critical point to note is that these were not isolated incidents, not the proverbial “1 or 2 rotten apples” so beloved of organisations in trouble. The worrying point is that of the 14 officers investigated, only 4 have left the force. The issues identified were systemic and widespread. A look at the number of recent Met officers charged with sexual violence against women shows how many of these rotten apples have existed and still exist – barrels of them, in fact.
Countless recommendations have been made over the years. We can add the 15 made in Operation Hotton to those made by Mr Justice Henriques in Operation Midland, those in the Daniel Morgan case, those in the Stephen Port murders, those to be made by Dame Louise Casey on the Met’s culture following the Everard murder and so on and on. Why bother? The leadership of the Met has all the evidence it needs to clean itself up. It won’t because the leadership simply is not up to the task. It is under the current leadership that this behaviour has developed, spread and not been tackled. Politicians have rushed to support the leadership almost regardless of how useless it is. It is notable that virtually the only criticism the Met has received from politicians has been over the Gray report. Fascinating as that is, lockdown parties are not – dare I say it – as dreadful as police officers threatening to rape fellow officers or vulnerable victims.
Law and order, a criminal justice system which works, police forces which can be trusted: these are core public services, services which only the state can provide and which it has a duty to provide, properly and effectively. For the last decade, the state has neglected its duty to do so. It has looked at the price of every part of it but not the value. It has let down victims, defendants, witnesses, those police officers who try to do a difficult job well. These are matters which require serious reflection and hard work. They are not a matter for unjustified smears as part of the “cut and thrust of Parliamentary debates”. The PM may know no better. But the Justice Secretary should. It is about time he and the Home Secretary applied themselves to their jobs with the seriousness these require.