Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill — Second Reading
Lord Carlile of Berriew (Liberal Democrat)
My Lords, I hope that my noble friends on the Front Bench will welcome a brief interlude from the almost unremitting attrition in relation to Part 1, for I, too, want to speak, and mainly about the universal jurisdiction. I was one of a group of colleagues in your Lordships' House, with most of the others coming from the Cross Benches, who were involved in activity in the last Parliament supporting the provisions that were incorporated into Section 70 of the Coroners and Justice Act 2009. That provision extended the universal jurisdiction for war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity. Unfortunately, since the enactment of that provision, we have seen little evidence that the new provision is working at all. My view is that it is part of good administration-which appears in the Long Title to this Bill-that Ministers should bear the responsibility for the universal jurisdiction and that police forces should bear the responsibility for showing that it is working. By now, prosecutions should be commencing as a result of the enactment of Section 70, but they are not. The criticism that the United Kingdom remains a safe haven for war criminals, I am afraid, still sticks.
With this in mind, I, along with others, will in due course table an amendment aimed to ensure reporting and accountability of the work in relation to the universal jurisdiction. Of course, the universal jurisdiction, as the noble Baroness has just said, is connected to Clause 154. For the reasons she has given, I welcome that clause and cannot understand any logical argument for the view that private prosecutions could be brought at a lower standard than public prosecutions. The Director of Public Prosecutions has shown himself to be reliable in dealing with private prosecutions when he has taken them over and recently the higher courts have supported his view that private prosecutions should be subject to the same dual code test that the CPS applies to public prosecutions. I shall strongly oppose any attempt to remove Clause 154 from the Bill.
Now back to the attrition, I am afraid. I congratulate the Government on their decision to create direct democratic accountability for the supervision of police services. It is long overdue. However, I do not congratulate them on the way they have set about it. It has long been Liberal Democrat policy-and I regret very much that this was not in the coalition agreement-that we should have elected police authorities. I see no problem with elected police authorities-they would be reasonably substantial in size, they could elect and remove their own chair, and it is likely that their own chair would be from diverse sections of the community from time to time. I see this as a much more accountable and reliable process than that set out in the Bill. It would avoid-or at least be more likely to avoid-maverick leadership, eccentricity, crass bad judgment and conflict with the relevant chief officer.
I have worked professionally with police authorities in some pretty critical cases and have seen them to be responsible and careful and to listen to advice but, quite rightly, not always to take it. However, it has been their collective approach that has been the benchmark of their success. I therefore intend-I hope with others-to table an amendment for elected police authorities.
Finally, I want to regret the waste of an opportunity. In the time when I was the independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, I watched joint working-which is absolutely inevitable in counterterrorism work-between police authorities. The Wales Extremism and Counter Terrorism Unit, which is a unified body involving the four police forces currently in existence in Wales, is an example. In all difficult areas of policing, 43 territorial police forces can no longer do the really serious work on their own. It is my regret that the Government have not taken the long-overdue opportunity to reform the police service in England and Wales; to reduce the number of police forces from 43 to something like a quarter or a third of that number; to reduce the number of chief officers and police authorities, whether elected or not; and to reflect, by that means, the essence-the needs-of modern policing.
Wales is one example I have much experience of and I cannot believe that it would not be better policed by one police force, or at the most, two, instead of four. I cannot believe that north-west England would not be better policed by the combination of Cheshire, Greater Manchester and the Merseyside police. I deeply regret that the Government and their predecessor-for their predecessor when Charles Clarke was Home Secretary started to approach this territory-have not taken on this agenda, which is really what we need to produce a police force that will survive the next couple of decades.