Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

It’s time for Labour to reclaim its position as the party of law and order

Cuts have increased crime - and the victims are the poorest.

When the police are cut-back and crime rises as a result, it is deprived communities that suffer most. A recent study by Edinburgh University confirmed that high levels of crime are linked to key indicators of deprivation. Half of the communities with the highest crime rates are found in the top 20 per cent of areas with the highest levels of chronic health problems.

Past research has shown that lone parents and the unemployed are twice as likely to be burgled as the average household, and that the deprived and the unemployed are twice as likely to be victims of violent crime than the average.

The truth is when crime rises and access to justice is curtailed, it is deprived areas and the voiceless who suffer the most.

That’s why under the last Labour government our words on law and order were matched with action and police numbers reached levels no previous Tory government came close to. We introduced tough new penalties to crack down on anti-social behavior. It was a sign of how we knew instinctively that a well-resourced and accountable police force keeps our communities safe.

In the years since we were last in power, what has happened on the law and order front is truly unprecedented. Violent crime has risen, neighbourhood policing has collapsed and the crucial link between communities and police so vital for intelligence to fight terror has shriveled.

As a result, many feel nothing less than under siege in their own communities.

Reducing the police to nothing more than blue lights on the tops of speeding cars who only turn up when the worst has happened, as this Government seeks to do will roll back decades of work to improve community relations and tackle crime.

What’s more, the way the police are funded – through a combination of police grant and council tax precept – means that most deprived areas have fared significantly worse from police cuts over the last seven years. Surrey raises almost half its budget from local council tax and has therefore only seen a 12 per cent cut whilst Nottinghamshire and Sheffield, with our lower council tax bases, have seen real-terms cuts of 17 per cent and 20 per cent.

Undoubtedly this means that the wealthier areas of our country are better equipped to police themselves and protect their residents from crime and anti-social behaviour.

It is the areas that need investment the most that are worst affected by crime and worst protected by Conservative Governments.

And it’s not just crime and policing where the Tories are rolling back decades of progress.

2018 has already raised serious questions about how we treat victims of crime and the confidence we all have in the justice system. The Worboys case - which saw  a man convicted of multiple serious sexual offences against women approved for release after serving less than 9 years, despite being given an indefinite term in 2009.

The victims in this case have found themselves without a voice, and their interests relegated to an afterthought. It has parallels with access to justice more broadly.

Cuts to legal aid have left the poorest and most vulnerable unable to access the legal representation that is their right.

Take victims of domestic violence – the Government promised to protect their legal aid, but then imposed stringent evidence tests in order to access it. The result has been that the number of applicants for civil legal aid for domestic violence cases has fallen by 20 per cent, whilst the number of victims representing themselves against their abusers in family courts has more than doubled.

Thousands of women are quite literally being forced to decide whether to face their abuser in court or forgo justice and risk the protection of themselves and their children.

If you’ve been a victim of discrimination at work, if you’ve had your benefits wrongly sanctioned and you face losing your home, if you’re fighting a bitter custody battle – the very last thing you have the energy for is to fight a lengthy battle to get legal representation, or worse represent yourself in court. But that’s exactly what the Government’s changes to legal aid have done. If you have the money you can pay for justice, if you don’t you’re forced to represent yourself or give up on justice altogether.

It’s not just legal aid where victims have been left without support by this Government. The Conservatives matched Labour’s promise to introduce a ‘Victims Law’ in 2015, but two years later victims are still waiting for it to be delivered.

And just as policing by consent depends on trust between communities and the police, our justice system relies in public confidence, particularly the confidence of victims, in the justice system to deliver fair sentences.

Labour used community orders because they led to lower re-offending rates and did away with ineffective short-term prison sentences. But under this Government, over half of community orders don’t involve an element of work to payback the community. If communities and victims are to retain confidence in the justice system, justice must be seen to be done.

Under the last Labour government we invested more in our police and criminal justice system than any other country in the OECD and slashed crime rates by over a third. It took a Labour government to pass the Race Relations Act and tough laws on LGBT and disability hate crime. It was Labour who first introduced legal aid to ensure everyone had the right to obtain justice whether rich or poor.

But while our record speaks for itself, in the Labour movement we haven’t always felt comfortable occupying this territory.

As shadow ministers representing South Yorkshire and Nottinghamshire seats, the miners’ strike and accompanying police brutality are forever etched in our communities, our families and our movement’s history.

If you’ve been involved in protests and demonstrations and been subject to police brutality; if you’ve been repeatedly stopped and searched growing up because of the colour of your skin, it’s entirely understandable. But being conscious and critical of failures doesn’t mean we shouldn't also be tough on crime and its causes, or support our criminal justice professionals to do difficult jobs with greater accountability and effectiveness.

So Labour must make the progressive case for standing up for police officers who've been bashed constantly by Theresa May over the last seven years.

We will make the case for standing up for victims to ensure whatever your background, and regardless of what you earn, everyone has equal access to justice and receives the support they need.

We must work together to strengthen police accountability, to improve the work of the IPCC and to ensure that all communities can trust the police will treat them fairly both as victims and offenders of crime. But we must also make the progressive case to protect the police, probation officers and criminal justice professionals both as public servants in themselves and as the public service they provide to our communities.

The Tories have vacated the ground on law and order, it’s time for Labour to occupy it as our natural territory once again.

Gloria De Piero is shadow justice minister and MP for Ashfield. Louise Haigh is shadow policing minister and MP for Sheffield Heeley. 

Louise Haigh is the Labour MP for Sheffield Heeley and shadow police minister.

Gloria De Piero is Labour MP for Ashfield and shadow justice minister.

BBC
Show Hide image

Can Britain’s new powers to investigate unexplained wealth prevent real-life McMafias?

The government is waking up to the fact that global criminals are fond of London. 

The BBC’s McMafia, a story of high-flying Russian mobsters and international money launderers woven into the fabric of London, ended this month. Despite the dramatic TV twists, the subject matter has its basis in reality. As a barrister dealing with cases that involve Russia and former Soviet states, my experience is that politicians and business people use the apparatus of the state to put rivals out of business by any means possible.

In McMafia, previously straight-laced fund manager Alex Godman (played by James Norton) begins transferring money under the cover of a new investment fund. With a click of a button, he can transfer a shady partner’s money around the world. As the Paradise Papers underlined, money can indeed be hidden through the use of complex company structures registered in different countries, many of which do not easily disclose the names of owners and beneficiaries. One company can be owned by another, so the owner of Company A (in Panama) might be Company B (in the Cayman Islands) which is owned by Company C (in the Seychelles) which owns property in London. To find out who owns the property, at least three separate jurisdictions must be contacted and international co-operation arranged – and that’s a simple structure. Many companies will have multiple owners, making it even more difficult to work out who the actual beneficiary is.

I represent individuals before the UK extradition and immigration courts. They are bankers, business people and politicians who have fled persecution in Russia and Ukraine or face fabricated charges in their home country and face extradition or deportation and will often be tortured or put on show trial if we lose. Their opponents will deploy spies, who may pay visits to co-defendants in Russia for “psychological work” (aka torture). Sometimes the threat of torture or ruin against a person’s family is enough to make them confess to crimes they didn’t commit. I have seen family members of my clients issued with threats of explicit violence and the implicit destruction of their life. Outside their close relatives’ homes in Russia, cars have been set on fire. Violence and intimidation are part of the creed that permeates the country’s business and political rivalries.

As in McMafia, London has long played a bit part in these rivalries, but the UK government has been slow to act. In 2006, Alexander Litvinenko, a former Russian security agent turned defector, was killed in London using Polonium 210 – a radioactive substance put into a cup of tea. Although Russian state involvement was suspected from the beginning, the UK government tried to block certain material being released into the public domain, leading his family to complain that the UK’s relations with Russia were being put before the truth. In 2016, a decade after his death, the inquiry finally delivered its verdict: there was a “strong probability” Litvinenko was murdered on the personal orders of Vladimir Putin. Yet in the same breath as condemning the act, David Cameron’s spokeswoman said the UK would have to “weigh carefully” the incident against “the broader need to work with Russia on certain issues”.

The government of Cameron’s successor has however been quick to use McMafia as a spring-board to publicise its new Unexplained Wealth Orders (UWO). These new investigatory powers are purportedly to be used to stop the likes of Alex from hiding money from the authorities. Anyone with over £50,000 of property who is politically exposed or suspected of a serious crime, will be forced to disclose the source of their wealth on request. While most British homeowners would own more than £50,000, the individuals are likely to be high profile politicians or under investigation already by the authorities. If they fail to respond punctually, they risk forfeiting their property.

The anti-corruption organisation Transparency International has long campaigned for such measures, highlighting cases such as the first family of Azerbaijan owning property in Hampstead or senior Russian politicians believed to own flats in Whitehall. Previously, confiscating hidden assets has been a lengthy and complex process: when the High Court confiscated an £11m London house belonging to a Kazakh dissident, the legal process took seven years.

The new Unexplained Wealth Orders mean that the onus is shifted to the owner of the property to prove legitimacy and the origin of the wealth. The authorities will have much greater power to investigate where finance and investment originated. But in order for them to work effectively, they will have to be backed up by expert prosecutors. The government still has a long way to go before it makes London a less attractive place to hide money.

Ben Keith is a barrister at 5 St Andrew’s Hill specialising in extradition, immigration, serious fraud, human rights and public law.