This policy was passed by Left Unity’s national conference on 14-15 November 2014.
Left Unity believes that Britain’s over reliance on policing, prosecution and punishment is socially harmful, economically wasteful, and prevents us from tackling the complex problems our society faces in a sustainable, socially just manner.
Criminal justice is far too big; far too costly; far too intrusive. Far from being a means of delivering social justice, it is the cause of much social injustice. The large footprint in society occupied by the combined criminal justice institutions is profoundly socially harmful.
The criminal justice process inflicts unnecessary suffering on many thousands of suspects, defendants and convictees every year. This suffering is experienced very differently depending on your position in society: for instance whether you are young or old, black or white, male or female, rich or poor.
The collateral damage of the criminal justice process is also profound. A criminal record is a life sentence for many: an ongoing obstacle to participation in work and the wider community. Families and communities whose loved ones are arrested, prosecuted, imprisoned and supervised experience deep and lasting loss. Collateral damage is also found in the stress experienced by many victims of crime, whose traumas and distress are often left unresolved, and in the dissatisfaction of witnesses, whose experience of the criminal justice process can be so negative.
Criminal justice also crowds out other, more innovative, just and effective policy and practice solutions to the problems our society faces. It is good at punishing certain individuals and groups. It fails to prevent social problems from arising, or to resolve those that occur.
Left Unity supports a much smaller criminal justice footprint in society and the development of an alternative set of justice policies and practices that are a proportionate response to the harms that people experience.
Left Unity Proposes:
We will develop ideas to downsize fundamentally criminal justice in Britain as part of taking steps to an equal society.
We are interested in exploring an across the board reduction in the social footprint occupied by criminal justice.
This means fewer arrests; fewer prosecutions; fewer prisoners; fewer probationers. It will also means fewer criminal justice workers, whether police officers, judges and magistrates, prison and probation officers or others.
Whatever the size of the criminal justice system it should be in public not private hands.
We will explore options to build policy and practice alternatives to criminal justice.
This is not about enhancing the capacity of criminal justice agencies to address the needs of those convicted of offences.
It is about rethinking the configuration of policy and practice – for instance in housing, education, health, social security and employment – so that many current criminal justice responses are not required at all.
Left Unity recognises that in downsizing criminal justice will require a comprehensive programme of jobs retraining and conversion for many of those currently employed in criminal justice to ensure unemployment does not result from a managed transition to a much smaller footprint for criminal justice system.
We will deal with crime by tackling poverty, building strong communities, expanding youth facilities and improving public safety— employing more concierges, investing in better street lighting, designing or redesigning housing estates so that everyone can walk to and from their home freely, without fear of being trapped in a place hidden from public view.
We support all measures to make the police more accountable to democratically elected civilian bodies. Stop police attacks on trade unionists, black people, young people and those exercising the right to protest or demonstrate. End the armed policing policies that led to the shootings of people like Mark Duggan. End the use of CS gas, batons, manacles and other forms of weaponry on vulnerable people. Disband all special police units. Sack and bring to justice the violent and racist police.
Legalise cannabis and decriminalise all drugs. For more accessible health facilities for users who need them.
Impact on children of austerity and child abuse
Conference agrees to campaign in the interests of children.
Children are damaged by Austerity policies. The damage is from
cuts to services, including social services
inadequate parental/carer income through low wages or inadequate benefits
the cost of good quality food
damage to the NHS
closure of sure start centres and youth centres
lack of space for safe outdoor play
A different kind of damage is caused by the curriculum and testing regime imposed in schools.
Further harm is caused by the hate campaigns against the poor and people disabled by our society, racism, hatred against Islamic peoples and against migrants. The refusal of NHS maternity care to migrant women is but one example.
The prevalence of sexual violence against women and children damages children. Pressure to conform to Sex stereo types causes still more damage.
The stress of hatred and violence produce mental health problems in children and young people.
The scandal of endemic and facilitated child abuse, including child pornography, in organised groups including those deep in the establishment cause appalling harm . Abuse in ordinary homes is also a problem.
Left Unity will work with the White Balloons White Flowers campaign, a project shared by survivors and campaigners often blacklisted for whistle blowing, to challenge for a full and free enquiry headed by someone not linked to the establishment. We join those calling for Michael Mansfield as an excellent candidate for this role.
This needs to be raised by the party to answer the strange in action in much of the media. Our work can help give confidence to those who need to fight for justice.
We call for full legal aid for the survivors and families of victims and a significant development of post traumatic stress disorder treatments and others facilities to help survivors lead full and joyful lives.
In order to end child poverty and child stress Left Unity will campaign for
a living wage
for equal pay for mothers
for living wage level benefits for those who care for children
for well-resourced child care
for good children’s social services
a shorter working week
and child friendly schools
NHS care for all mothers
qualitatively improved mental health services
good safe play facilities.
Fighting injustice, defending democratic rights
Conference notes that in the run up to the General Election on 7 May 2014 certain issues about criminal justice will be taken up in a populist reactionary manner by the Government, Labour and UKIP. On the other hand there will be silence from these parties about grossly unjust developments that have taken place and are threatened in the future. Conference resolves that Left Unity vigorously takes up these issues over the coming months.
Cuts in Legal Aid
Under capitalism there has always been one law for the rich and one law for the poor. But this has been mitigated by the by legal aid, the result of years of struggle. The Government, as well as its new Labour predecessor, has made swingeing cuts to legal aid so once again working class people cannot afford to take legal action over a vast array of issues or to have the quality of criminal defence they should receive. The Government proposes to make further cuts which will have the effect of further limiting access to justice and decreasing the number of legal aid providers. It is only as a result of legal action that government proposals to deny legal aid to those who have not been “lawfully resident” in the UK for at least a year have been defeated for now. Left Unity Says reverse the cuts, extend legal aid and make it available to all, regardless of immigration status.
At the Tory Party Conference, David Cameron promised to repeal the Human Rights Act and withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights unless the European Court agrees for the Government to ignore those rulings it doesn’t like. This forms part of an anti-European and anti-immigration campaign by the Government. This way the Government will render itself immune from action against human rights violations. Left Unity Says Defend the Human Rights Act! No Repudiation of the European Convention on Human Rights and the European Court!
Stop and Search
Despite reforms to the system, Black people and Muslims are subject to stop and search grossly disproportionately. Young people disproportionately suffer this interference. Left Unity Says get rid of stop & search.
As the economic depression drags on and as all the mainstream parties adopt policies that scapegoat minorities, violence and other form of hate crimes have increased against Black and minority ethnic people; the disabled; women and lesbians, gay, bisexual and transgendered people. For example one in five lesbian and gay people have experienced a hate crime in the last three years. It is also estimated that 90% of hate crime is unreported. At the same time Community Safety Units that help victims of hate crime and co-ordinate community responses to it have been savagely cut. Left Unity will campaign for a reversal of these cuts and for better monitoring and training across these areas within the criminal justice system, as well as more generally among public & private sector employers and for greater support for voluntary organisations to set up their own reporting centres.
We recognise that many LGBTQ people end up in the prison system as a result of interlinked patterns of discrimination, particularly racism, poverty and ableism. Those from poor backgrounds and Black and minority ethnic communities are disproportionately funnelled into the prison system as a result of systemic discrimination, inequality and social exclusion. We also know that queer, trans and gender non-conforming people are often subject to increased isolation, harassment, violence and assault when in prison. Left Unity will seek to outreach to organisations that work with LGBTQ prisoners to develop policies to improve their position and tackle the underlying causes that lead to disproportional numbers of LGBTQ people being in prison
‘Independent’ Police Complaints Commission
Despite its change of name from the Police Complaints Authority a few years ago, the IPCC is not fully independent and moreover is not involved in investigating the majority of complaints. In most cases if you make a complaint to the police it will be investigated either by a local senior police officer or a police officer from the Professional Standards Unit. Only in very serious cases, or in an appeal against a decision, will non-police personnel become involved in the case. Even then, the majority of IPCC investigators are ex-police officers. For most people, complaining to the IPCC is a demoralising experience, raising expectations only to find the police investigating the police. Left Unity demands that there is a genuinely INDEPENDENT organisation to investigate all complaints.
Deaths in Custody
Between 1969 and 2011 there were 3,180 deaths in custody (source: United Friends and Family). That includes in police custody, prisons, immigration detention centres and people forcibly detained in hospital. Yet NOBODY has been convicted in relation to any of these deaths. Left Unity supports the United Friends & Families Campaign and supports their demands, namely:
Prison deaths be subject to a system of properly funded investigation that is completely independent of the Prison Service;
Officers involved in custody deaths be suspended until investigations are completed;
Prosecutions should automatically follow ‘unlawful killing’ verdicts;
Police forces be made accountable to the communities they serve;
Legal Aid and full disclosure of information is available to the relatives of victims regardless of financial means;
Officers responsible for deaths should face criminal charges, even if retired.
Privatising the criminal justice system
Everyday more of the criminal justice system is being outsourced to private companies. They are running prisons, electronic monitoring, custody suites in police stations and escorting prisoners. Company profits rise while standards of service deteriorate. Private companies have a financial interest in maintaining a high prison population and cut-price care, and are difficult to hold to account. The police and prison services are a law unto themselves as it is, but these companies are even worse and even more difficult to hold to account.
Don’t sell off the probation service
The Coalition is currently pushing through measures to privatise 70% of a once effective state-run Probation Service. The service and staff will be split between the National Probation Service (which will supervise high risk offenders) and 21 regional Community Rehabilitation Companies. These CRCs are to be sold off to commercial bidders by the end of 2014, which might include G4S and Serco, despite their proven track record of overcharging on their contracts. Left Unity says no to the privatisation of the criminal justice system Left Unity says no privatisation!
No repeal of the Human Rights Act, no withdrawal from the European Convention of Human Rights
1. The Conservative Party has for the last decade had a policy of scrapping the Human Rights Act (1998), which brings the provision of the European Convention on Human Rights directly into British law, and replacing it with a weaker, “British Bill of Rights and Responsibilities” with less protection for fundamental rights and freedoms. They have also said they would openly defy rulings of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) which they do not agree with, leaving it as no more than an advisory body – a similar policy to that of Putin’s Russia.
2. Since its introduction the Human Rights Act has been important guarantor of basic freedoms for all, especially for vulnerable groups. Some of its achievements include:
a. Defending the rights of migrants and foreign nationals. Immigration lawyers and pro-migrant campaign groups have successfully used article 8 that guarantees ‘the right to family life’ and article 3 that bans ‘inhuman and degrading treatment’ to halt deportations of foreign nationals living in the UK.
b. Challenging ‘anti-terrorist’ extraditions to the United States and other states that practice torture in their criminal justice system. Article 3 was also used in the cases of Gary McKinnon (successfully) and Talha Ahsan (unsuccessfully) in an attempt to stop their extraditions to the United States where they would be/were held in the notoriously inhumane ‘supermax prisons’.
c. Helping victims of domestic violence let down by the state. The Human Rights Act has been successfully used to defend a woman who constantly moved house to flee a violent husband against the charge of the local authorities that she had ‘intentionally made her family homeless’ and was therefore an unfit mother.
d. Defending the right to protest. Anti-war campaigners attempting to protest at RAF Fairford were stopped and sent back to London under heavy police escort in 2003. Their lawyers successfully argued in court that this violated article 10 of the convention that guarantees freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.
e. Helping victims of rape and sexual assault, who have been able to bring civil claims for damages for breach of article 3 resulting from failings in police investigations.
3. The ECHR has also proven to be an important body in defence of fundamental rights:
a. Upholding universal suffrage for all. In 2005 the ECHR ruled in defence of universal suffrage for all adults by saying that prisoners could not be automatically barred from voting in elections simply on account of being in prison. The UK parliament is still openly defying this European ruling.
b. Defending LGBTQ rights. Back in 1981 the ECHR decriminalised gay sex in Northern Ireland and has recently ruled against two marriage registrars who claimed they were unfairly dismissed for refusing to marry gay couples.
c. Ensuring religious freedom. In 2013, the ECHR ruled against British Airways after it had banned an employee from wearing a cross around their neck.
d. Rights for prisoners. In 2013, the ECHR found that ‘whole life sentences’ – which rule out the possibility of release completely, i.e. with no possibility of review – was a form of torture and as such in contravention of article 3.
4. We also note that a case is currently being pursued in the ECHR against GCHQ’s industrial-scale snooping of ordinary people as a violation of article 8 (right to privacy and family life) in light of the Snowden leaks. If successful this case will represent a very important blow against the surveillance state with serious implications for British politics.
5. Left Unity recognises that the proposal to repeal the Human Rights Act and de facto withdraw from the European Convention of Human Rights takes place in a climate of increased state repression and surveillance. If repealed it will lead to further miscarriages of justice, more attacks on the right to protest, more state surveillance over ordinary people, and more attacks on migrants and foreign nationals. This is why we categorically oppose the repeal of the Human Rights Act and UK withdrawal from the European Convention of Human Rights, and will energetically campaign against it alongside others.
6. We also recognise that human rights legislation in itself will not guarantee rights and freedoms and the record of the British court system on these issues is at the very best inadequate. For example, article 2 of the ECHR protects the right to life and provides the state with an obligation to investigate deaths in custody. While this has greatly assisted many families of people who have died in prison or police custody in gaining more detailed inquests and bringing successful civil claims, the lack of any criminal prosecutions arising from the 4,500 deaths in custody between 1990 and 2013 (source: Inquest) remains an outrage.
7. The anti-terrorist legislation passed in the UK in 2001 and 2005 and the current “anti extremist civil disruptive orders” proposed by this government, effectively gagging and preventing freedom of assemble for discussion and protest against the state on the mere “balance of probabilities”, has also had huge human rights implications, dramatically empowering the state against citizens. While the Human Rights Act has provided legal avenues to challenge aspects of these laws, it does not replace the need to politically campaign for the withdrawal of all repressive legislation and for fundamental and far-reaching political reform of the criminal justice system.
8. Ultimately, the court system cannot be relied upon to guarantee the rights and freedoms of working people, and will inevitably exhibit bias towards ruling class interests. But we fully support the rights of all people, regardless of class, ethnicity and social status, to seek redress in the courts system against injustice and oppression in all its forms. We recognise that the Human Rights Act provides important avenues for them to do this.
9. Left Unity also does not uncritically endorse all judgements of the ECHR and supports progressive reforms to the European Convention itself where necessary (for instance, we would support the inclusion of an explicit right to strike in the convention). But in line with our broader policy we call for ‘the re-foundation of Europe’ and oppose the dead end of parochial nationalism. This means we support all steps to increase democratic control over European institutions, including the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe that appoints ECHR judges. In Britain, where anti-human rights attitudes go alongside xenophobic hostility to the peoples of Europe, we will campaign not for a withdrawal from Europe, but for an alternative, democratic and socialist Europe.
Crime and punishment
Crime can only be understood in relationship to society. In class society crime is a product of alienation, want or resistance. Under capitalism the criminal justice system is anti-working class, irrational and inhuman. Property is considered primary; the person merely a form of property.
Against this Left Unity demands:
1. The codification of criminal law. Judges cannot be allowed to ‘rediscover’ old offences or invent new ones.
2. All judges and magistrates must be subject to election and recall.
3. Defend and extend the jury system. Anyone charged with an offence that carries the possibility of a prison sentence can elect for a jury trial.
4. Fines to be proportionate to income.
5. Prison should always be considered a last resort. There must be workers’ supervision of prisons. Prisoners must be allowed the maximum opportunity to develop themselves as human beings. People should only be imprisoned within a short distance of their home locality – if not, families must be given full cost of travel for visits.
6. Prison life must be made as near normal as possible. The aim of prison should be rehabilitation, not punishment.
7. Prisoners should have the right to vote in parliamentary and other such elections and to stand for election. Prisoners to have the choice to vote within the constituency where they are imprisoned or where they lived before they were imprisoned
Child sexual abuse
1. The uncovering of child sexual abuse and child sexual exploitation in the UK as a widespread phenomenon.
2. The failure of the police to take these allegations seriously in the past.
3 The collusion and cover up of such abuse by political parties, media, churches, social services and other institutions.
4. That right wing groups tend to make the running on this politically, either by direct campaigning for justice, but only if the perpetrators are Muslim, or by supporting local protests and revulsion against named paedophiles.
1. That much of the left has not taken child sexual abuse seriously, both when it comes to an analysis of abuse and campaigning with survivors.
2. That socialist and feminist politics can explain both why abuse happens and why it gets covered up, by understanding that it is the unequal power relations between the abuser and the abused which is the underlying cause of both the abuse and the cover up.
3. Millions of survivors are now having to deal with memories often buried for decades, yet they often have nowhere to go for support.
1. To try to bring together socialist feminist academics to study the relationship between class, gender and child abuse with a view to publishing an in depth article – either online or in print.
2. To urge local branches to try to bring together the following groups with a view to campaigning for justice and resources whenever local abuse scandals occur:- survivors groups, women’s groups, unions in relevant workplaces, anti-austerity campaigners.
3. To support local campaigns to achieve justice for survivors, whilst also opposing racism and scapegoating.
4 To work nationally with survivors’ groups, women’s groups and other appropriate organisations to come up with a programme of demands for the resources necessary to offer all survivors counselling, therapy and other appropriate support.
Criminal justice system
Conference recognises the increasingly punitive nature of capitalist society and the marketisation of criminal justice and the prison system. Britain’s over reliance on policing, prosecution and punishment is socially harmful, economically wasteful, and prevents us from tackling the complex problems our society faces in a sustainable, socially just manner.
As of the week ending 3rd October 2014 the prison population of England and Wales stood at 85,705 in prisons and young offender institutions – 1,078 more than the same point in 2013. The 5 most overcrowded prisons in England and Wales range between 178% and 165% of their Certified Normal Accommodation. This must be viewed against the background of a continued levelling off in recorded crime, and decreasing estimates of most crime types and overall crime rates based on the Crime Survey of England and Wales.
The Criminal Justice System, far from being a means of delivering social justice, is the cause of much social injustice and the increasing criminalisation of young people simply for being young, the poor simply for being poor, the mentally ill simply for being mentally ill. The criminal justice process inflicts unnecessary suffering on many thousands of suspects, defendants and convictees every year. This suffering is experienced very differently depending on an individual’s position in society: young or old, black or white, male or female, rich or poor.
The ‘collateral damage’ of the criminal justice process is profound. A criminal record is a life sentence for many: an ongoing obstacle to participation in work, housing and the wider community. Families and communities whose loved ones are arrested, prosecuted, imprisoned and supervised experience deep and lasting loss. Many victims of crime face traumas and distress, often left unresolved.
The Criminal Justice System crowds out other, more innovative, just and effective policy and practice solutions to the problems our society faces. It is good at punishing certain individuals and groups on the basis of age, gender, ethnicity, and increasingly at generating profits for private industry as prisons, probation and increasingly police functions are privatised and marketised. It fails to prevent social problems from arising, or to resolve those that occur.
Conference considers that we must urgently explore options to build Socialist policy and practice alternatives to Neo-Liberal Criminal Justice, developing class based socialist policy on the judicial system, youth and criminal justice and penal reform, but also through tying in initiatives in housing, education, health, social security and employment.
To this end we call on the National Council to convene a Left Unity National Policy Conference on Crime and Justice in 2015 on the themes of Youth Justice, Criminal Justice and Penal Reform, drawing on the policy commission report, resolutions from branches and input from critical left academics and practitioners.
Left Unity is active in movements and campaigns across the left, working to create an alternative to the main political parties.
Events and protests from around the movement, and local Left Unity meetings.
Tues 21 Sept, 18.30-20.30
#HistoryActs Kill The Bill
How do we #KillTheBill and what lessons can we learn from history?
Sun 3 Oct, 12.00
Protest the Tory Party Conference
National demo #UnitedAgainstTheTories
Part of a week of action.
Sign up to the Left Unity email newsletter.
Get the latest Left Unity resources.