Great Britain and Canada Address Criminal Justice System

By Turpin, James | Corrections Today, August 1997 | Go to article overview

Great Britain and Canada Address Criminal Justice System


Turpin, James, Corrections Today


Springtime was the season for elections in a number of major Western democracies, including two nations which have close cultural ties to the United States: Great Britain and Canada. In both elections, the progressive parties won impressive victories. However, there was a definite contrast in the tone and level of debate concerning crime. In Gmat Britain, the issue was more one of perception than reality. Although crime had increased somewhat, the voting population was led to believe that crime had gotten out of control under the ruling party. In Canada, however, because crime historically has been low, the issue was not a primary election concern.

Great Britain

In the British elections, crime was an important issue. The debate in many ways mirrored the discussion which has been raised in the United States over the last decade, and the victorious Labour Party's platform could easily have been used by either major American party: "We will be tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime." On May 1, 1997, Tony Blair and the Labour Party saw a decisive victory, with Blair becoming the first prime minister from his party in 18 years.

In its Manifesto (platform), the Labour Party came out on the offensive, attacking the then-ruling Tories for an 11 percent increase in violent crime and a failure to follow through on a promise to put another 1,000 police on the street. In its campaign, Labour cited statistics which indicated that crime had doubled under the Tory regime, while the rate of conviction had fallen to one in 50. The party also blamed the ruling party for the Dunblane, Scotland tragedy, citing the country's liberal gun policies.

Specifics of the Labour platform stressed more punitive than preventive measures. Labour pledged a new approach to juvenile justice, tougher prosecutions, more police on the beat, a crackdown on petty crimes and a banning of all handguns. As is a British tradition, the importance of gun control was stressed. The prevention approach, which emphasized the need for increased collaboration between all levels and types of institutions, was noted but not given a high degree of prominence.

Since the election, the new Labour government has begun taking steps to implement its platform. On June 11, the House of Commons approved a total ban on the possession of hand-guns, giving Great Britain one of the world's strictest gun control laws. In addition, Home Secretary Jack Straw has consolidated control of the country's prisons under his department. This centralization of authority will make it easier to implement a consistent policy with regard to punishment.

As is the case in the United States, juvenile justice also is a primary focus of the new British government. The issue was one of the major issues presented by Queen Elizabeth II in her opening of Parliament in mid-May. Her proposal called for quicker prosecution, parental responsibility and more certain punishment for juvenile offenders.

The Labour Party Manifesto claims that it is "the party of law and order in Britain today." The party will have the next five years to implement its program. Since the rhetoric suggests a great deal in common with the current approach in this country, it will be interesting to see if the results are similar. …

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