Tuesday 18 August 2009

Police Cannot Be Trusted Say... Magistrates?!

In another one of those moments when the world seems to have turned upside down, the Magistrates Association has told the government that it doesn't believe police officers can be trusted to issue fixed penalties without abusing their powers.

Chris Hunt Cooke of the association's road traffic committee, said:

"Regrettably, recent experience with out-of-court disposals shows that the police cannot be relied on to use them appropriately or as intended.

Once they have been given these powers, the police will misuse them, that is a certainty, and careless driving will be generally treated as a minor offence, unless serious injury is involved.

This is a proposal that places the convenience of the police above what is right in principle, may coerce innocent drivers into accepting a fixed penalty, and is certain generally to downgrade careless driving in terms of offence seriousness."
Former police minister Alun Michael, a member of the Commons justice committee and the man responsible for the introduction of ASBOs, has accused the magistrates of “grandstanding”. This is a bit rich coming from a man who I remember called for greater transparency over custody deaths, but not before members of the United Families and Friends Campaign forced our way into a conference he was speaking at. If that wasn't "performing ostentatiously in order to impress the audience and with an eye to the applause", then I don't know what is.

Recent experience with police use of anti-terrorism stop-and-search powers - to pick one example - also shows that the police cannot be relied on to use them appropriately or as intended. In Hampshire, these powers were abused with such regularity, for so little result, that the police were eventually forced to suspend them.

The Telegraph also recently reported that powers allowing officers to stop children aged under 10 and search them has been used by the Met to search 8 two-year-olds and 9 three-year-olds over the last two years. Presumably those who did so also think 'Family Guy' is a documentary and that Stewie Griffin is a dangerous pre-school role model...

It's good to see that magistrates are slowly starting to catch up with what many of us already know - that every time the police are given new powers, they routinely abuse them.

Why? Because they can - and because systems for transparency and accountability are so weak and ineffective that they can get away with it.

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