Analysis: Law and Order: The Arresting Case against Red Tape Is Not All It Seems ; POLICE Rank-and-File Officers Complain about Bureaucracy - but Others Argue That It Is Needed to Prevent More Miscarriages of Justice
Burrell, Ian, The Independent (London, England)
DAVID BLUNKETT promised yesterday to scythe through police station bureaucracy to free up thousands of officers and renew the public's faith in the efficiency of the criminal justice system.
But the Home Secretary's pledge to do away with what he described as "cumbersome procedures" glossed over the fact that these very measures had once been introduced with the intention of restoring trust in the same justice system.
While the police rank and file were enthusiastic yesterday about moves to release them from requirements that had kept them off the beat, senior officers were more cautious.
Kevin Morris, the president of the Police Superintendents' Association, said: "We need to understand why the public or sections of the public have lost confidence in us, and why others have decided they protection from our practices so that they need to introduce procedural changes or legislation."
At the heart of the debate over the balance between bureaucracy and accountability is the Police and Criminal Evidence Act (PACE) of 1984, which lays down procedures for officers when making arrests.
The act is widely seen as being responsible for cutting the number of miscarriages of justice by demanding safeguards that protect the suspect.
Before the 1984 Act, there were no requirements for tape- recorded interviews, and rogue officers perfected the art of "verballing", where they made up a confession that had never been given. The practice was uncovered only when scientists came before the courts to testify that ESDA tests, capable of determining whether statements had been changed, showed that pages of interview notes had been fabricated.
Civil libertarians at first opposed the Act on the ground that it extended police powers by allowing detention for 96 hours instead of the previous 48.
But John Wadham, the director of the human rights group Liberty, said the wider value of the legislation had since become obvious. "It has been one of those measures which has been very useful in ensuring that the rules are clear and police obey the rules. There have been less miscarriages of justice post-PACE."
Mr Wadham added that some of the procedural requirements had also helped police officers, for instance by protecting them against false accusations of abuse.
The problem with PACE, according to the Home Office, is that it has grown by 25 per cent, by a succession of amendments to incorporate the introduction of related legislation, such as changes to race laws.
The Conservative MP Ann Widdecombe seized on the issue while she was shadow Home Secretary, after Labour came to power in 1997.
She called for the amount of police paperwork to be reduced drastically and embraced the American idea of "cops in shops", which allows officers to write up reports in shops and offices rather than having to return to their police stations. Last night she said: "There is a whole industry around bureaucracy. We have just gone potty. Every single thing has to be written down."
When Mr Blunkett was appointed Home Secretary a year ago he immediately found himself under great pressure over a perceived shortfall in police numbers. Falling crime figures could not compete with tabloid headlines suggesting a country going to the dogs and calling repeatedly for "more bobbies on the beat". …