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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:

  1. the repeal the Criminal Justice (Terrorism and Conspiracy) Act;
  2. the reform of criminal and civil procedures to give adequate protection to the rights of the individual;
  3. 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.

Police Accountability

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 of searches.

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 lay visitors.

Security Forces

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.

Peaceful Protest

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:

  1. the defence of homosexual panic be reviewed;
  2. a specific offence for “hate crimes” to be introduced and monitored;
  3. all police forces to institute training on issues relating to transgendered people;
  4. the offence of gross indecency be replaced with a new public sex offence applying to both homosexuals and heterosexuals equally;
  5. 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.

Sentencing

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 capital punishment.

Drugs

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:

  1. the global repeal of legislation regarding the prohibition of drugs and its replacement with an effective strategy of legalisation, regulation and control,
  2. 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;
  3. taxation of drugs and redirection of criminal justice expenditure to education and treatment services;
  4. 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.

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