The Home Office’s review of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act was published today.
Having read it, I have to say that it is reasonably balanced. A wide range of views are expressed. One wonders what will happen next. Privacy International expressed the rather scathing view that the proposals being considered were vague and undefined, and that the Home Office was merely going through the motions in conducting a public consultation at all. One hopes that they are wrong. Here, in any event, are the things that caught my eye.
Powers of Arrest
Two points of note here. First is the eminently sensible suggestion that the citizen’s power of arrest should be extended to apply to any offence, not just to an indictable offence. If a citizen reasonably suspects that a crime is being committed, it is proper that they should be able to restrain the suspected offender until the police arrive. To expect a citizen to have sufficient knowledge of the law to know whether or not the offence is indictable or not is unrealistic.
Second is the depressingly predictable suggestion that PCSOs be given the power of arrest, the argument being that since they have the power to detain people for 30 minutes until real police arrive, they have de facto powers of arrest anyway. One must ask: if PCSOs are to be given powers of arrest, what differentiates them from real police? They must, if given powers of arrest, be “police on the cheap” as this blogger has suspected all along. The remit of PCSOs is different from that of real police (and, frankly, questionable) and the distinction is important. They are receive less training and less pay. They are not police officers, and it is not right to expect them to perform the same duties.
Collection of Biometric Data
Here we go again with crackpot suggestions from senior police officers. One Inspector Thomas Huntley responded to the review with the suggestion that the power to collect DNA should be extended to allow the collection of samples from people arrested for non-recordable offences: speeding, littering etc. In support of this suggestion, he offers the following, ridiculously bone-headed, argument:
“… failure to do so could be seen as giving the impression that an individual who commits a non-recordable offence could not be a repeat offender and therefore only those arrested for recordable offences are likely to have offended before.”
I reject his premise, utterly. The mere fact that a police officer chooses to arrest someone does not imply guilt; it does not imply that they are an offender at all, let alone a repeat offender. Retaining DNA samples only for those convicted of an offence should be the standard that we set for inclusion in the National DNA Database. ACPO may not agree with that, but even they think that sampling people for littering is a step too far:
But despite some support for the police’s request to massively expand the database, the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) warned that granting such powers could contribute to the increasing “criminalisation of generally law-abiding public”.
On the same topic, Liberty threw down the gauntlet with a challenge to the assumption that the NDNAD is even useful: they say that statistically, it has had little impact upon the detection of crimes. Another encouraging suggestion came from the Human Genetics Commission, which expressed concern that DNA samples are held for innocent people, and suggested that those convicted of minor crimes should have their samples destroyed if they do not reoffend for a set period. Good stuff.
Finally, the review reports that several respondents suggested that the power to issue search warrants should be removed from magistrates and conferred upon police superintendents! The suggestion is that the issuing of these warrants would then be reported to the courts after the fact. In an astonishing display of doublethink, one respondent from the CPS even claimed that such a move would increase accountability and transparency… This asinine suggestion is further evidence of a worrying trend: the reduction of the role of the judiciary in overseeing the actions of the police. Search warrants need to be approved before they are executed, not after it is too late to take action if a warrant is unreasonable.
When the time comes for the Home Office to announce what changes will be made to PACE — if any — it will be very interesting to see which of these suggestions are taken on board.