Crime and justice

There is a hefty overlap in the three main parties’ crime policies.

Everyone wants to cut red tape and reduce the amount of time police spend filling out forms. The Tories will cut the ‘stop form’ entirely and reduce the burden on stop-and-search procedures. Police will have discretionary powers on minor offences and criminals will be processed more quickly by video-linking custody cells and courts. The controversial Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (Ripa), which regulates police surveillance, will be reformed so that authorisation is not needed in routine cases. Labour will use time-saving technology to cut the time police spend on bureaucracy, and cuts in red tape. The Liberal Democrats are also relying on technological advances with form-filling replaced by voice-recognition technology, hand-held computers and civilian keyboard operators who can take details down over the radio.

Labour and the Conservatives are both committed to increasing the amount of prison places. The Tories want to “redevelop” the prison estate and increase capacity “as necessary”, enabling the party to scrap the early-release scheme. Labour is more specific, committing itself to providing a net further 15,000 prison places by 2014 through the largest ever prison-building programme, 7,000 of which will be provided by 2010.

The two parties will also concentrate on knife crime. The Tories want stop and search powers strengthened and anyone caught carrying a knife to expect prosecution and a prison sentence. The length of custodial sentences that can be awarded in a magistrate’s court will be doubled from six to 12 months and knife scanners installed on streets and public transport. Labour will initiate a targeted campaign on knife crime and bring in tougher sentences for those caught with a knife. There will be new controls on deactivated firearms, portable weapon scanners for the police and targeted action on gang crime.

The Tories and the Liberal Democrats both want to democratise the power structure of the police. The Tories will allow communities to elect the individual setting policing priorities in the area. The Lib Dems will give more power to police authorities, which will have the right to sack and appoint the chief constable, set local policing priorities, agree any national minimum standards, determine budgets, and not have their council tax precepts capped by Whitehall. Local people, in turn, will directly elect the police authorities.

There are policies distinct to each party, however. The Tories are concentrating on anti-social behaviour. They will give local authorities and police much greater power over licensing including the ability to remove licences from, or refuse to grant licences to, any premises which are causing problems. A tax will be imposed on superstrength beers, ciders and alcopops. Off-licences and supermarkets will be banned from selling alcohol below cost price. A series of early intervention measures, like grounding orders, will allow the police to use instant sanctions to deal with anti-social behaviour. Householders will be offered greater protection if they have to defend themselves against intruders in their homes.

Labour want tougher and more visible community payback schemes, a new ‘victims’ champion’ and a £5 million ‘community crime fighters’ programme to train 3,600 members of the public.

The Liberal Democrats promise to put 3,000 more police on the street by scrapping the ID cards programme. ‘Community justice panels’ will give communities a say o the punishment of petty criminals and those engaged in anti-social behaviour. Prisoners will have to work to contribute to a compensation fund for their victims.

Drug addicts will be helped with treatment and mentally ill people will be moved out of prison and into more appropriate secure accommodation. There will be a review of the terms and conditions for police officers and the police contract will be modernised. The party also wants an annual fitness test for police officers with those who fail demoted to a desk role or a civilian position in the force.