Martin Partington: Spotlight on the Justice System

Keeping the English Legal System under review

Archive for October 2014

Reliability of statistics on crime

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At the beginning of 2014, I noted here there was growing public concern about the reliability of statistics on crime, in particular the statistics on recorded crime which comes from individual police forces. In January, the UK Statistics Authority published a report which concluded that: ‘the Authority has removed the National Statistics designation from statistics based on recorded crime data [i.e. data from individual police forces and the National Fraud Office to the Home Office] until such time that Office for National Statistics, with the Home Office, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary or other appropriate bodies, is able to demonstrate that the quality of the underlying data, and the robustness of the ongoing audit and quality assurance procedures, are sufficient to support its production of statistics based on recorded crime data to a level of quality that meets users’ needs.’

At the same time, the Statistics Authority confirmed that crime statistics which are based on sources other than recorded crime data are not included in this down-grading.

The issue was the subject of a special inquiry by the Public Administration Select Committee of the Housing of Commons (see this blog Jan 2014). In April 2014 it issued a very critical report. It said, in summary:

  • There is strong evidence that the police under-record crime, particularly sexual crimes such as rape in many police areas. This is due to “lax compliance with the agreed national standard of victim-focussed crime recording.”
  • As a result of PASC’s inquiry, the UK Statistics Authority has already stripped Police Recorded Crime data of the quality kite mark, “National Statistics”.
  • The Home Office, the Office of National Statistics and the UK Statistics Authority have all been “far too passive”.
  • Numerical targets drive perverse incentives to mis-record crime.
  • Associated “attitudes and behaviour… have become ingrained, including within senior police leadership” raising “broader concerns about policing values”.
  • This presents officers with “a conflict between achievement of targets and core policing values.”
  • PASC “deprecate the use of targets in the strongest possible terms” and accuses the police of adopting a “flawed leadership model, contrary to the policing Code of Ethics.”

The Select Committee recommended:

  • The Home Office should do more to discourage use of targets.
  • The Home Office must take responsibility and accept accountability for the quality of Police Recorded Crime Statistics.
  • Senior police leaders must emphasise data integrity and accuracy, not targets.
  • They should place new emphasis on values and ethics, especially in the Metropolitan Police.
  • The Home Office should “clarify the route open to police whistleblowers” and Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of the Constabulary (HMIC) should investigate the treatment of key PASC witness police whistleblower PC James Patrick.
  • PASC recommends that “the Committee on Standards in Public Life conducts a wide-ranging inquiry into the police’s compliance with the new Code of Ethics; in particular the role of leadership in promoting and sustaining these values”.

In July 2014, the Government published a response to the Select Committee’s report, which noted that HMIC was undertaking a review of crime recording practices in each of the 43 police forces, and had already published an interim report (which noted they had serious concerns, particularly about the recording of serious sexual offences). It also noted that the new Code of Ethics, which was in the process of becoming a code of practice for policing, dealt – among many other things – with the recording of data. The Home Office noted that better recorded crime statistics might lead to an increase in the numbers of reported crime, but it was keen to assert that this did not mean that crime was on the rise. Other evidence showed that crime was decreasing – in particular the Crime Survey for England and Wales.

A further response from the UK Statistics Authority was published in September 2014.

There is clearly a great deal of technical work needing to be done to restore confidence in the recorded crime statistics.

For further information, see

Report of the Select Committee at http://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/public-administration-select-committee/news/crime-stats-substantive/

The Government’s response at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/caught-red-handed-why-we-cant-count-on-police-recorded-crime-statistics

The initial report from the UK Statistics Authority at http://www.statisticsauthority.gov.uk/assessment/assessment/assessment-reports/index.html (entry for 15 January 2014).

The response of the UK Statistics Authority to the Select Committee is at http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201415/cmselect/cmpubadm/645/64505.htm

See also the website of the Crime Statistics Advisory Committee at http://www.statisticsauthority.gov.uk/national-statistician/ns-reports–reviews-and-guidance/national-statistician-s-advisory-committees/crime-statistics-advisory-committee.html

 

Written by lwtmp

October 8, 2014 at 11:39 am

Law-making process in the European Union

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Those coming new to the study of law often struggle to understand precisely how the institutions of the European Union operate. There is a great deal of information readily available on the websites of EU institutions.

I have recently seen an excellent diagram on how the law of the EU is made, setting out the different stages that proposals from the European Commission must go before they become law.

To view, go to http://www.europarl.europa.eu/aboutparliament/en/0081f4b3c7/Law-making-procedures-in-detail.html and look at the slide show. (Click on the arrows in the middle of the picture.)

Written by lwtmp

October 6, 2014 at 9:29 am

Where next for Human Rights?

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Much publicity has been given to the publication of proposals from the Conservative Party to, in some way, opt out of the European Convention, or more particularly judgements of the European Court of Human Rights.

I was unable to track the paper down through the Conservative Party website, but it can be accessed from the BBC News website at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-29466113.

The proposals are controversial and have already generated heated debate. A key issue, which has not had the air-time it deserves, is what message any such move by the UK Government would have on the other 46 states who are also members of the Council of Europe and who are signed up to the European Convention on Human Rights. Despite the Government’s impatience with certain aspects of the way in which the European Convention impacts on the UK (such as the decision on prisoner’s voting rights, or the power of the judiciary to impose whole life prison sentences without possibility of review) there is a general public assumption that – on the whole – human rights are respected in the UK. But this cannot be said for many of the countries who have joined the Council of Europe.

If the UK Government is able to announce that it no longer wishes to accept rulings of the European Court of Human Rights, then it is not hard to imagine that many other countries – where human rights are less well protected – might want to make the same argument. This could lead to an unravelling of the standards set by the European Convention on Human Rights that could lead to significantly adverse consequences for the future development of human rights in Europe.

More broadly, if these proposals went ahead, they could undermine the ability of future UK Government’s to make the case for improvements in human rights standards, in other countries where they currently do not exist or are extremely weak.

I do not argue here that the application of the European Convention through the work of the European Court on Human Rights is perfect. Far from it: the decision taking process is sclerotic; the backlog of cases is a scandal. The UK Government has taken a lead in discussions on developing measures to ensure that the European Court works more efficiently.

And if, as the Conservative Party argues, the Court is suffering from ‘mission creep’ then to remain engaged with the Court and to argue that there has been mission creep seems to me a more positive way forward. (In the latest prisoners’ voting rights case, at least 2 judges expressed significant concerns about the way decisions of the Court had been going, which opens up the possibility that the Court might alter its approach. )

This should be an important issue for public debate. The problem is that so many people do not really understand what the Convention rights are nor how they are applied. The issues are treated inadequately in the news media. Thus there is often assumed to be a lack of common sense about the Convention and its application which is not justified.

Certainly it is an issue that will continue to attract attention over the next couple of years.

Written by lwtmp

October 4, 2014 at 5:13 pm