A Liberal Party Policy Statement
Crime, Civil Liberties and the Law
The Liberal Party condemns the continuing erosion of civil liberties,
and believes that the Police and Criminal Evidence Act (PACE) must be
amended as soon as possible in order, at the very least, to remove such
controversial matters as random stop and search powers for the Police.
English law needs to be brought into line with that in Scotland, limiting
detention without charge to 6 hours. Liberals believe that many of our
present laws are archaic and must be replaced by new laws more suited
to the needs of today.
In setting freedom first, Liberals champion the individual’s right to
justice and we therefore call for:
- the repeal the Criminal Justice (Terrorism and Conspiracy) Act;
- the reform of criminal and civil procedures to give adequate
protection to the rights of the individual;
- Courts to be given the additional power to initiate further investigation.
In empowering the individual Liberals believe that it is central to a
fair and just legal system that those who infringe the rights, freedoms
and security of others should be shown the consequences of their actions.
We will work to remove the causes of crime such as powerlessness, gross
inequalities in wealth, social exclusion. We will seek to design out those
features of our settlements which reduce positive community interaction
such as dark corridors/paths, poor sight lines and unhindered motor traffic.
We reject “curfews” and “Zero tolerance” and will
give power to communities so that they can develop mutual support through
discussion, agreement making and mediation based on the understanding
of each others needs. We want positive neighbourliness not neighbourhood
watch. We value the roles of parents and will seek to develop their opportunities
and self worth so that they are no longer defined as “unemployed”
or “part-time” but can be positive role models for their children.
To these ends Liberals support greater investment in modern technology
where this is consistent with civil liberties and increased use of civilian
staff in order to release police officers’ time for criminal detection
and prevention through greater activity in community life. It is only
through the support and co-operation of local communities that policing
can be truly effective. Liberals envisage a more devolved structure for
police authorities with local police stations being accountable to the
communities they serve and having sufficient autonomy to enable them to
respond to the needs of those communities and enlist their support.
We view with alarm the continuing failure of many police to recognise
both the rights of the individual and the laws of the land. We condemn
abuses of their power against those deemed unpopular and note
that such abuses have led to harassment or miscarriages of justice.
Complaints about the police should not be investigated by other police
officers. We need a truly independent police complaints organisation to
hold the police force accountable to the community for its actions. Liberals
would create a structure totally separate from the policy force to deal
with complaints and discipline, with the authority to require police officers
to undertake re-training, additional training and to dismiss officers
from the service and/or to refer cases for criminal prosecution of officers
(eg: for perverting the course of justice) if necessary. This body would
need the legal authority and professional, independent staff to fully
investigate complaints. Decisions about complaints, discipline and compensation
should be made by an independent panel of lay people representing the
community. All parties involved in the case should be allowed legal representation.
Police uniforms should be re-designed in order to make it easy for individual
officers to be identified. We would also create rules for the conduct
Advocacy for people in Police Custody
Duty solicitors who refuse to represent people in custody or who do not
adequately represent their interests should not be allowed to continue
as duty solicitors.
People who have undertaken Paralegal training should also be allowed
to represent people held in police custody, and the state should encourage
more people to undertake the training by providing grants to cover the
cost of the course.
People in custody should also be allowed to appoint as an advocate or
advisor a friend or relative or a local councillor, if she or he is willing
to act in that capacity.
The role of Lay Visitors in examining the conditions under which people
are held in custody should be better advertised to police officers and
people in custody. Representatives of lay visiting panels should be able
to attend police authority meetings and make recommendations about improvements
to custody conditions. Liberals would encourage more people to become
Liberals would seek to prevent security forces (eg: police, MI5) infringing
on the rights and privacy of people involved with peaceful protests. Intelligence
service activity should be restricted to and concentrated only on those
groups or individuals which threaten the physical well-being of other
people - rather than those who present a threat only to economic bodies
or political policies.
Liberals endorse non-violent direct action (NVDA) as a traditional and
legitimate form of protest. We would revoke sections of the Criminal Justice
and Public Order Act (1994) which criminalised several forms of protest
(eg: aggravated trespass).
We are concerned to ensure that state agencies should be subject to the
tests of democratic accountability, justification, and scrutiny. To that
end, we call for the establishment of a Royal Commission into the constitutional
role of the police.
Liberals call for the establishment of a new Department of Justice to
oversee these reforms, together with an independent and properly representative
forum to ensure that the rights of the individual are not transgressed
by any who wield authority on behalf of the state. There is also an urgent
need for effective legal remedies for groups and individuals who have
suffered as a consequence of state inflicted injustice and to ensure that
victims are adequately compensated. Liberals call for increased aid for
victim support schemes.
The Liberal Party welcomes the National Charter of Good Practice for
Policing Lesbian and Gay Communities and calls for:
- the defence of homosexual panic be reviewed;
- a specific offence for hate crimes to be introduced
- all police forces to institute training on issues relating to
- the offence of gross indecency be replaced with a new public
sex offence applying to both homosexuals and heterosexuals equally;
- the Crown Prosecution Service to initiate training on issues
related to homophobia and transgender phobia.
Magistrates and Judges
Liberals believe that magistrates and judges should reflect the values
of our society and communities and, therefore, should reflect the make-up
of our society and communities. We would offer far more encouragement
to under-represented groups to get involved. The public image of magistrates
and judges, particularly with under-represented groups, could be improved
by reforming rules governing them. For example, magistrates and judges
should be subject to similar rules about conflicts of interest as local
councillors. As well as having to register any political affiliation,
they should have to publicly register their financial and non-financial
interests and memberships and withdraw from cases in which they have any
personal or political interest.
There should be an independent body to investigate complaints about the
behaviour or expressed attitudes of magistrates or judges (eg: derogatory
remarks about individuals or groups). It should also be possible for this
body to scrutinise the track record of magistrates and judges regarding
conviction and sentencing for particular types of offence or particular
groups of people. This body would have the authority to require that judges
or magistrates undergo re-training or further training and to dismiss
judges or magistrates from service if necessary.
Trial by Jury
Liberals believe that all defendants should have the right to choose
a trial by jury over a trial in a Magistrates Court, whatever offence
they have been charged with. We also believe that a guilty verdict in
a Crown Court should not mean that the defendant faces a stiffer sentence
than she or he would receive in a Magistrates Court for the same offence.
We reject the simplistic demands for harsher penalties. Today’s sentencing
procedures are inconsistent and sometimes downright unjust. Regular training
on sentencing for judges and magistrates must be implemented, stressing
the need to promote the rehabilitation of offenders. We call for an end
to custodial sentencing in general, and believe that imprisonment should
only be considered for crimes against the person, or which put persons
at risk of physical, psychological or emotional injury.
Whilst some young people are committing serious and deeply antisocial
offences, an approach which concentrates on incarcerating the most delinquent
and damaged adolescents in large soulless institutions under the supervision
of staff who have no specialist training in dealing with difficult teenage
behaviour is nonsensical and inhumane. Consequently, we call for an end
to the use of prison custody for all young people under 18 and that the
millions of pounds spent every year on such imprisonment should be redirected
towards more constructive methods of solving the problems of youth crime.
Liberals believe that there are no circumstances whatsoever in which
the death penalty is appropriate and that the case for capital punishment
has now collapsed, especially in the light of recent exposures of miscarriages
of justice. We call for capital punishment to be outlawed for those offences
which still command the death penalty, and that diplomatic pressure should
be brought to bear on other governments in order to persuade them to outlaw
Liberals believe that the increase in drug related crime has at least
in part been caused by the prohibitive attitude resulting from the 1971
Misuse of Drugs Act.
Accordingly, the Liberal Party proposes:
- the global repeal of legislation regarding the prohibition of
drugs and its replacement with an effective strategy of legalisation,
regulation and control,
- the establishment of an independent multi-agency co-ordinating
body to oversee policy development and implementation in relation to
the supply and control of drugs;
- taxation of drugs and redirection of criminal justice expenditure
to education and treatment services;
- the dissemination of accurate and truthful information to minimise
substance-related harm to individuals and communities.
We believe that these measures will eliminate the criminal market place
and cause a reduction in related crime and violence.