The President : The General Council supports the composite motion.
Jonathan Ledger (National Association of Probation Officers), moved Composite Motion 5.
He said: In April next year the Probation Service will undergo a significant and far‑reaching change. Legislation, currently going through Parliament, will create a new national probation service under a National Director. At the same time, our members working via the courts with children of separating families will join a new independent organisation.
I mention this modernisation programme because NAPO has welcomed the Government initiative and co‑operated with its development. What a pity, therefore, that the Government's general approach to criminal justice policy has been piecemeal, overly punitive and populist. We were promised an approach which would be tough both on crime and on the causes of crime. In the Probation Service we have experienced plenty of toughness but predominantly it has focused on the individual offender. The buzz words are: punishment, enforcement and penalty. NAPO is currently fighting government proposals which include the power to deduct State benefits from unemployed offenders who fail to co‑operate with the requirements of their court order. This measure will deliberately discriminate against the unemployed and is likely to prompt offending rather than stop it.
The problem with following a populist agenda is that it does nothing to inform public opinion, counter ignorance, or give publicity to the excellent work with people who commit offences that goes on in many areas of the criminal justice system. Ignorance leads to fear. For some, this is about their personal safety. At its most extreme it can result in vigilantism. The recent News of the World campaign succeeded only in driving many sex offenders underground, thereby increasing public safety concerns and creating new victims when, for want of a dictionary, a paediatrician became a target for violence.
Congress, we are frustrated by the Government's approach to criminal justice issues because we know that it knows better. It understands the links between economic disadvantage and deprivation and some criminal behaviour. It is aware of the impact of discrimination and oppression on many groups and minorities in our communities. Progress is being made on some of these issues but it is neither sufficiently highlighted nor extensive enough.
A properly balanced criminal justice strategy will help protect our communities by reducing crime as a result of preventative measures, not simply aimed at individuals but also at the social problems which, of themselves, create so much injustice. Politicians can help by educating the public about the complexity of criminal behaviour rather than pandering to bigotry and prejudice.
NAPO is confident that all trade unions with members in the criminal justice system, not just the specialist unions, will want to work with the General Council and the Government to develop our shared vision of a just criminal justice system. Please support this motion today and help us pursue this aim in the coming year. I move. (Applause)
Jackie Sweeney (Association of Magisterial Officers), seconding the composite motion, said: Congress, for the last decade law and order has risen up the political agenda with politicians competing to put forward tougher policies and initiatives. The politicians' answer to crime is more bobbies on the beat, repressive legislation and wider police powers, taking no account of civil liberties and access to justice. Criminal justice policy and legislation has been driven by political expediency and knee‑jerk reaction to specific events rather than any coherent strategy.
No attempt has been made to understand the causes of crime or to tackle the social and economic deprivation which research evidence suggests lies behind a large majority of criminal activity. A dog bites a child, pass legislation banning dangerous dogs; bored young people hang around on street corners, introduce childcare and anti‑social behaviour orders; too many people seek asylum, label them as scroungers and lock them up; the prisons start overflowing, build more prisons; too many defendants opt for trial by jury on minor charges, abolish the right to choose.
AMO's Real Quality Real Justice campaign demonstrates our commitment to a criminal justice system that commands respect, not some cut‑price excuse for a criminal court process. We have previously voiced concerns about NAIR reforms and their anticipated impact upon justice. Now we know the reality. We know that, while some cases are being rushed through, other cases are being held up because of lack of resources. We know that there is more and more pressure on us to cut delays, regardless of whether the time is necessary to do justice in the case. We know that the police and the CPS are becoming far too influential in setting the criminal justice agenda.
It is sometimes said that hard cases make bad law. If law and order is so important on the political agenda then it is even more important that criminal justice policy is carefully considered, properly debated and responsive to social needs, not some ad hoc, sound bite, knee‑jerk reaction to passing public opinion. I urge you to support this composite. (Applause)
Gwenda Binks (Public and Commercial Services Union), supporting the composite motion, said: Congress, you have heard from both the mover and seconder many and varied problems that surround law and order issues in our country. The PCS supports their views and wants to make our contribution in this arena. We have tens of thousands of members in the criminal justice system, for example, the Lord Chancellor's Department, Home Office, prisons, Scottish courts, Met. Police and indeed others. The jobs that our members do are essential for the administration and operation of the systems that we have. They do valuable and difficult jobs, as do other unions' members in this area. However, the criminal justice system that we have is dysfunctional and what we all desperately need is a coherent, criminal justice policy.
The British Government came into office heralding the themes of Modernising Government and Joined‑up Government. Congress, we want a modern criminal justice system and we want a joined‑up criminal justice system. The PCS believes that, together with all of the trade unions with members in the criminal justice system and our Ministers, we have the ability and the opportunity to develop a criminal justice strategy that we can all be proud of. So please support the composite. Thank you. (Applause)
* Composite Motion 5 was CARRIED
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