Wed 29 September 2021

North West England’s former Chief Prosecutor, Nazir Afzal, on why the new Prime Minister does not have a coherent crime and justice strategy – despite his ‘law and order’ rhetoric.

My fury at the attacks on policing and justice over the austerity years is sadly not dissipating with our new Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s announcement of 20,000 new police officers – and not just because I will believe it when I see it, but mainly because it hasn’t been thought through.

Let’s paint the picture. Police numbers are down 21,000 since 2010, which is a cumulative loss of 500,000 years of policing experience. Add to that a similar number of police civilian staff, without whom police could not do their jobs. Then factor in the reduction of police stations – up to 800, all over the country.

It doesn’t end there.

The Crown Prosecution Service, which takes police investigations to court, has lost about 3,000 staff members. There has been a substantial reduction in legal aid lawyers who can advise suspects. The courts where these cases are heard have reduced by a third and court staff are down by several thousand. The probation service, which works with offenders on release from prison or serving community sentences, has lost 2,000 plus staff following Chris Grayling’s botched privatisation. It has left thousands without rehabilitative support, meaning that many continue to offend after conviction and sentencing. Our under-staffed and violent prisons have already had to start recruiting hundreds of staff to replace those who were let go leading to a crisis in our jails.


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Don’t forget the hundreds of forensic science staff, digital analysts, police doctors and nurses, and other technicians who gather, interpret and prepare the evidence which forms the backbone of investigations.

What about the hundreds of College of Policing staff who train police officers during their careers and the staff at HM Inspectorate of Constabulary and the Office of Police Conduct which enforce quality and standards in policing?

Then there’s victims’ support services. NGOs working to protect and assist victims of crime have been savaged by reductions in funding. Many have gone to the wall, leaving victims completely lost and unsupported. Others are relying entirely on the goodwill of volunteers or just prioritising the people they can help, leaving thousands desolate and deprived.

So, welcome the 20,000 new police officers with zero experience who require two years plus training just to become constables.

Ask who is going to train them and where they are going to be stationed when they qualify.

In which buildings will suspects be held for interview and to await court hearings?

Wonder out loud where the courts are in which cases will be heard and the staff, including magistrates and judges, to try the cases. Consider where the defence lawyers are going to come from to advise and advocate for suspects, now that we have reduced the number of lawyers who do so by slashing legal aid.

Reflect for a moment who in the NGO sector will be available to support the rising number of victims hoping to get justice.

Think about which probation officers will rehabilitate the increasing number of offenders and who will pay to build the new prisons we will require, having run down the prison estate over the past few years.

To put it bluntly, 20,000 police officers require 10,000 others in support staff at least and a further 10,000 justice professionals to deal with the increased workload. That will merely take us back to the numbers required, but not the experience which we have lost. We cannot simply ask retirees and staff made redundant to come back because they would be required to pay back their retirement and redundancy packages.

Has Boris Johnson thought any of this through?

We are less safe now than we have been for a decade. Our children are dying on the streets, crime is rising and undermining social cohesion, and we will be less safe for decades without a crime and justice strategy.

Johnson doesn’t have one.

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