» Thursday, June 22, 2006

Prime Minister’s Speech-Criminal Justice System-Migration

The Prime Minister’s Official Spokesman (PMOS) briefed the assembled press that tomorrow, the Prime Minister would reflect on his time as a barrister, an MP and Shadow Home Sec as well as Prime Minister, and his emerging interest in the changing nature of law & order. The PMOS told people that this speech would be based on the Prime Minister’s own personal experience through the years from Opposition days, the views of experts, and the Prime Minister had commissioned a number of papers which were discussed at the seminar on June 7th on this issue. Some of those papers, even the ones that we did not necessarily agree with, had been published on the Downing Street website.
In the speech, the Prime Minister would recall that asked what job he wanted by the then Leader of the Opposition John Smith, the Prime Minister said:

1. "The reason I wanted it (Shadow Home Secretary job), was not just because I thought it would be politically interesting, as indeed it turned out to be; not even because I wanted to change radically the Labour Party’s stance on it, though I certainly did; but because I had become, through personal experience in London, in my constituency – the inner city and rural England – convinced that we were witnessing profound social and cultural change and that the legal establishment I had been brought up in and the political establishment I had joined, were completely out of touch with this, didn’t understand it and certainly weren’t dealing with it".

2. "I have also learnt something else. I have come to the conclusion that part of the problem in this whole area has been the absence of a proper, considered intellectual and political debate about the nature of liberty in the modern world. In other words, crime, immigration, security – because of the emotions inevitably stirred, the headlines that naturally scream, the multiplicity of the problem raised – desperately, urgently need a rational debate, from first principles and preferably unrelated to the immediate convulsion of the issue of the moment".

3. "What’s more, I believe we can get to a sensible, serious and effective answer to these issues and build a consensus in favour of them. But we can’t do it unless the argument is won at a far more fundamental level than hitherto".

4. "In reality, what is happening is simply another facet of globalisation and a changing world. Fixed communities go. The nuclear family changes. Mass migration is on the march. Prosperity means most people have something worth stealing. Drugs means more people are prepared to steal. Organised crime that traffics in drugs and people make money. Violence, often of a qualitatively as well as quantatively different sort than anything before, accompanies it".

5. As a result of the scale and nature of this seismic social change, the challenges faced by the criminal justice and immigration systems have grown exponentially, not in a small way but in a way that, frankly, mocks a system built not for another decade but another age. So we end up fighting 21st century problems with 19th century solutions".

6. "Here is the point. Each time someone is the victim of ASB, of drug related crime; each time an illegal immigrant enters the country or a perpetrator of organised fraud or crime walks free, someone else’s liberties are contravened, often directly, sometimes as part of wider society. It’s no use saying that in theory there should be no conflict between the traditional protections for the suspect and the rights of the law-abiding majority because, as a result of the changing nature of crime and society, there is, in practice, such a conflict; and every day we don’t resolve it, by rebalancing the system, the consequence is not abstract, it is out there, very real on our streets".

Asked what the Prime Minister’s plans were this afternoon, the PMOS said that he was visiting an inner city estate in Bristol, and he would be talking to local residents about their experience, not only of crime, but also of the Government’s response, and how extra policing, ASBOs etc had made a difference. The Prime Minister would be getting their personal insights, looking not only into the nature of the problem, but also the solutions that the Government had come up with.

Asked what parts of the criminal justice system (CJS) the Prime Minister thought were outdated and needed to be changed, and how did he propose to change them, the PMOS replied that if people looked at what the Government had already done in areas such as ASBOs, where there were elements of summary justice etc, already there were signs of change. If people equally looked at the proposals that the Government came up with for 90-day detention, as opposed to the 28-day detention order which had been passed, people could already begin to see how the Government saw the balance of liberties and justice as needing to change. This was not a speech which was going to be a detailed exposition of policy changes; that would come when John Reid outlined his proposals for summer recess. Rather, this was a speech which went deeper, and tried to understand the changes not only in society, but also in crime. It also needed to understand the changes in the way that the justice system responded to that to be able to meet those challenges. It was more of a philosophical speech, rather than a detailed exposition of policy, as that would come later.

Asked what was made of the suggestion that this approach to law and order was akin to putting a plaster on a broken leg, the PMOS said that we should look at where we were in terms of the overall crime statistics that showed that as a result of the Government’s approach, overall crime was falling. That was not an insignificant statement, given past history. The PMOS also said that people should look at the real changes that we had made in terms of police influence, where the concept of community support officers had gone from theory to reality, and was making a real difference on the ground in certain areas. There was also a growing number of police officers as well. The PMOS said people should also look at the operation of ASBOs and the difference that they were making on the ground. What we had to do, however, was understand the overall context, and how that had changed and how the changes in that context meant the response had to be changed. That was therefore, precisely the opposite of putting plasters on a problem, as it was trying to come up with a holistic vision of the nature of the problem, and then putting forward holistic solutions to that problem. The PMOS said that what would not work was to pretend that the problem had not changed, because it had.

Asked further about the traditional tensions and the rights of law abiding majority, the PMOS said that there was no use in saying that in theory, there should be no conflict between the judicial protection of the suspect and the rights of the law abiding majority, because as a result of the changing nature of crime and society, there was in practice such a conflict.

Put that the way of resolving such conflicts meant that some of the rights of the law abiding majority would have to be curtailed, the PMOS replied that first of all, it had to be recognised that there was a tension and there was a real problem. If people took for instance the issue of fraud trials, there was an issue between the traditional way in which they had been approached, and the complexity of modern day fraud. That reality had to be addressed. If that reality was not addressed, that was making a choice about the balance of liberty for the majority, as opposed to those who were suspected of crime. People had to face up the fact that there was a choice to be made.

Put that by facing up to that choice, it was quite clear that the Prime Minister preferred to frame measures to make that choice, the PMOS said that the Prime Minister was prepared, and had been prepared, as he had with ASBOs to make hard choices. The Prime Minister recognised that they were hard choices, but in this, as in other areas, he believed that it was right for the Government to face up to those choices as they could not be ducked, just as they could not be ducked elsewhere in Government policy.

Asked if the Prime Minister would speak about any personal experiences of being a victim of crime, the PMOS replied that it was personal experiences of the Prime Minister dealing with the issue as a barrister, as an MP, and as Shadow Home Secretary, as well as being in Government.

Asked what had taken the Prime Minister nine years, if the CJS was what had been "spurring" him on, the PMOS replied that the Government had taken a lot of measures, and it had got to a situation where for the first time in a long while, overall crime was going down, not up, and police numbers were going up, not down. People had to also recognise that the nature of the problem kept evolving; part of the reason why the crime scene was changing was because the nature of crime itself was changing. If people looked at organised crime, and the impact of technology in organised crime, it was not only more difficult to detect at a national level, but also made it more global, because of the ability of organised crime gangs to act in more than one country. Therefore, the way in which that was dealt with had to change. There was an evolution in the problem, therefore, there had to be an evolution in the nature of the solution. It was frankly misleading to pretend that there was only one solution which if taken up, would solve the problem. Instead, there had to be a multiplicity of solutions, but at the heart of that, had to be an understanding of the issues that were at stake.

Put that when the Prime Minister talked about the need for debate, was he going to propose any formal structure, or a formula for it, and also was there any hint that the Home Office might be broken up, the PMOS replied that it was not a hint. The PMOS said that the nature of immigration changed after the Cold War, as it had frozen boundaries and it made migration across Europe difficult. Migration now brought many advantages to this country, for example in the way in which migrants had filled jobs that were necessary, and how they had helped this economy. Equally, however, migration after the Cold War also brought problems, and we were aware of those. They were issued which faced not just countries in Europe, but there was an issue in America, and Australia, for example. Migration as an issue had been transformed in the past two decades because of global issues, and people had to take that into account.

Put that we were moving away from the assumption that people were innocent until proven guilty, the PMOS said that we were not moving away from that. We were having to take a broader concept of liberty and justice. If that concept was narrowed, then the modern problem was not being done justice to. For example, with anti-social behaviour, if it was not tackled, then an injustice was being done to the majority of people who lived on estates, etc, therefore that broader concept of justice had to be taken and applied in a modern setting. How that was done individually was a matter for debate on the detail of policy, but in terms of the broad approach, that was what the Prime Minister was highlighting in his speech.

Asked what the themes of the other speeches in this series might be, and when they would happen, the PMOS said that the overall theme of the speech would be "Our Nation’s Future". In terms of the other speeches, they would touch on the futures of such issues like public sector service etc. We would take them one by one, as we did with the foreign policy speeches. They would occur over the next few months.

Asked what was the idea behind the timing of the other speeches, and were they a swan song, the PMOS replied that if people had been a Prime Minister for a period, as the Prime Minister had, then that gave him a body of experience to build on. As with the foreign policy speeches, these were all issues where there were profound changes taking place in the world as we knew it.

Therefore, what one did as a Prime Minister was use that personal experience and governmental experience to address those issues and to articulate the issues at the heart of policy. The PMOS said that everyone in the room was accustomed to debating particular aspects of various policies on a daily basis. What the Prime Minister was using the speeches to do was to widen the lens and look at issues in the round. That was what the Prime Minister believed was the value of doing it for, so that certain policies were then set in an overall framework which presented a coherent view of the world as it was, not as we might wish it to be.

Asked for some examples of where suspects’ civil liberties should be curtailed, the PMOS replied that he had also mentioned fraud trials as well (i.e. less juries), which was Government policy, in terms of complex fraud investigations. The PMOS said that he did not want to pretend that this was a policy speech, but rather, it was an analysis of why the approach in these issues had to be thought about and changed accordingly. In terms of the 90 days, we believed that the police needed more time because of the change in the nature of the terrorist threat. Equally, in terms of fraud, it was because of the ever increasing complexity of the types of fraud that were being perpetrated in the modern world that the balance had to changed. Unless the underlying problem was analysed in a fundamental way, then the issues could not begin to be addressed.

Asked if the Prime Minister was going to address experience of recent problems at the Home Office and with over-lenient judges, the PMOS said that if an issue such as migration was looked at, the analysis of why that was more of an issue now than it was in the past was part of the background as to why IMD had faced the problems that it had.

Asked if the Prime Minister would say that we had "cocked up" at the Foreign Office because of mass migration, the PMOS replied that if people were looking for an explanation of why migration was a more acute issue, and therefore, why it caused more acute problems, the answer would be the change in migration since the Cold War had caused problems as well as benefiting the economy.

Asked if the Prime Minister would mention the Human Rights Act in his speech, the PMOS said that there probably would be a mention of the Human Rights Act.

Asked what was the Prime Minister’s thinking was on how that might affect the balance, the PMOS suggested that people should wait for the speech tomorrow. The Prime Minister’s view had always been that the Human Rights Act itself simply encapsulated what was in the European Convention, which was translated into legislation in many European countries. It had not caused the problems that it had seen as causing in this country.

Asked to explain why migration was being raised in the context of the CJS, the PMOS said that the issues about the number of migrants, and how the issue of deportation was dealt with, were part of the issue of the rights of the individual versus the rights of the majority. That was an integral part of the migration debate, i.e. what was the right of someone who wanted to come to this country as opposed to the majority of people who were here? That was part of the balance of individual liberty versus community liberty.

Briefing took place at 14:00 | Search for related news

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