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Frances Crook's blog · 17 Oct 2019

‘Law-and-order’ proposals in the Queen’s Speech are performative politics at their most risible

Frances Crook in front of office bookshelves

The government has been trumpeting its focus on ‘law and order’, but it is not in fact concerned either with promoting the rule of law or in creating a more orderly society.

The proposals announced in the Queen’s Speech are performative politics at their most risible. They will do nothing to protect victims, reduce crime or encourage people to make amends for the wrong they have done.

The key proposal for legislation is to make a select group of men (sic) serve just a bit longer in prison than currently is the case. Men sentenced to a determinate prison term of seven years or more will now have to serve two thirds instead of a half before they are released. The Ministry of Justice estimates that this will increase the prison population by about 2,000 over the next eleven years.

The courts are clogged up with the poor and the sick, but rapists carry on with impunity

Should this ever be enshrined in legislation – which is far from certain in today’s turbulent times – it will have absolutely no impact on crime or individual behaviour. It is hardly likely that a rapist is going to think ‘hang a on a minute, if I rape this woman I will have to spend nine years in prison instead of seven. That is of course, if I am caught, which I won’t be. If I am prosecuted, which I won’t be. If I am convicted by a jury, which I won’t be.’

Rather than confronting the disgraceful failure to convict rapists and protect women, this posturing will deflect attention from a criminal justice system that exploits and ignores victims and fails to deal effectively and fairly with people convicted of crimes.

Men (for it is almost all men) convicted of the most serious violent and sexual crimes and given indeterminate sentences will not be affected by the proposal, making the proposal look capricious and irrelevant.

More than 1,400 people have been arrested for demonstrating about climate change, but people facing charges of heinous crimes wait months to come to court, as do their victims

There are really serious challenges that need addressing in the whole criminal justice system and we need serious political leadership to solve them. David Gauke and his team had suggested dealing with the mess that is short sentences and published research-led evidence to back up their plans. There are moves to sort out the shambles in community sentences that will go halfway but will still leave a central contradiction with part-privatisation.

The courts are clogged up with the criminalisation of the poor and the sick, but rapists are carrying on with impunity. More than 1,400 people have been arrested for demonstrating about climate change, some dressed as broccoli, but people facing charges of the most heinous crimes wait months to come to court, as do their victims.

The whole system seems designed to make this worse for victims and communities. We need reform, not posturing.

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