Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill House of Commons, Second Reading, 15 March and 16 March 2021

The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts (PCSC) Bill covers a wide range of community safety issues and seeks to introduce measures which aim to have an impact on victims of crime, those who perpetrate crimes, and wider community safety.

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Key messages

  • The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts (PCSC) Bill covers a wide range of community safety issues and seeks to introduce measures which aim to have an impact on victims of crime, those who perpetrate crimes, and wider community safety.
  • Councils will continue to play their important role, alongside the police and partners, in protecting our communities and ensuring they are safe places to live.
  • Whilst we welcome the opportunity to work with the Government on this wide-ranging piece of legislation, the Parliamentary timetable has left little time to scrutinise the Bill in sufficient detail.
  • There are several measures in the Bill that warrant further formal consultation, particularly the Offensive Weapons Homicide Reviews, imposing conditions on public processions, public assemblies and one-person protests, and the youth justice measures.
  • Part 2 of the Bill seeks to place a new statutory duty on local authorities and wider partners to collaborate and plan to prevent and reduce serious violence. We support taking a public health approach to tackling serious violent crime and emphasise the importance of investing in early intervention and prevention measures.
  • All new duties included within the Bill should be fully funded. It would also be helpful for the Government to consider extending the Violence Reduction Unit funding, already made available to 18 Police and Crime Commissioners, to the remaining 23 local areas.
  • It will be important for this Bill to complement the measures outlined in the Domestic Abuse Bill which is still progressing through Parliament, as well as wider legislation and guidance, to ensure that simultaneous changes to the local government community safety landscape are considered collectively and carefully.
  • Whilst this is a Home Office and Ministry of Justice led Bill, it will be vitally important for these measures to be considered at a cross Departmental level. Without involvement from the Department for Health and Social Care, and the Department for Education, it will not be possible to embed early intervention and prevention work to tackle serious violence across the health and education sector.

Duties to collaborate and plan to prevent and reduce serious violence (Part 2, Prevention, Investigation and Prosecution of Crime, Clauses 7 - 12)

Part 2 of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill seeks to place a duty on specified authorities for a local government area to collaborate with the other specified authorities for that same area to prevent and reduce serious violence.

The specified authorities are chief officers of police, specified health authorities, local authorities, probation service providers, youth offending teams and fire and rescue services.

The Bill outlines that each specified authority must collaborate with every other specified authority in that area, to establish a local problem profile/ strategic needs assessment and develop and publish a local strategy which will outline the collective action they intend to take.

Local government response to tackling serious violent crime

Tackling serious violent crime is a key priority for councils. This has become even more vital due to the rising levels of this type of crime and the harm it causes to victims and communities, as well as the young people and vulnerable adults drawn and exploited into committing it.

There needs to be an understanding across all partners of what is meant by ‘serious violent crime’. In the context of the Government’s Serious Violence Strategy, this refers to violent crime that occurs in a public space, for example knife crime, homicides, robbery or gun crime.

However, for many areas, serious violent crime will mean domestic abuse or activity by serious organised crime gangs. So, whilst there is a focus on public space violent crime, different areas will experience varying levels and types of serious violent crime. In turn, this will require different responses at a local level and the Bill must ensure there is flexibility within the system to enable this.

Law enforcement and criminal justice measures are only part of the response needed to tackle serious violent crime. A multi-agency partnership approach is required, working across Government departments and all agencies, including the police, health, charities and a range of local government services such as, education, social services and youth services.

We support the World Health Organization’s (WHO) definition of taking a public health approach to reducing violent crime. A public heath approach is one that ‘seeks to improve the health and safety of all individuals by addressing underlying risk factors that increase the likelihood that an individual will become a victim or a perpetrator of violence. By definition, public health aims to provide the maximum benefit for the largest number of people. Programmes for primary prevention of violence based on the public health approach are designed to expose a broad segment of a population to prevention measures and to reduce and prevent violence at a population-level.’

By identifying the early indicators and risk factors of serious violence, this can help key agencies to implement the right interventions and divert individuals away from violent crime. Taking a public health approach to reducing violence recognises the necessity both of gaining an understanding of violence through evidence and of responding to the problem through carefully designed interventions.

Any new statutory duty on local authorities will need to receive long-term, sustainable funding and cannot continue to be funded through one-off, short term grants.

Violence Reduction Units

The Home Office has outlined that the new serious violence duty will complement the Government’s investment in the 18 Violence Reduction Units (VRUs). These VRUs have been established in the areas most affected by serious violence and seek to ensure that agencies work effectively together.

Violence Reduction Units are expected to bring together different organisations, including the police, local government, health, community leaders and other key partners to tackle violent crime by understanding its root causes. The new units were responsible for identifying what is driving violent crime in the area and coming up with a co-ordinated response.

The Home Office’s evaluation of Violence Reduction Units (August 2020) found “good progress had generally been made by the VRUs over the first year of the programme, which had in most cases laid a foundation for a more evidence-based and targeted response to serious violence in year two of the programme”.

Given the relative success of the 18 VRU areas, it would be helpful it the Government could outline whether there are further plans to extend the VRU model to the remaining 23 police force areas.

Amendments to the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 (Part 2, Clause 19)

In addition to the proposed serious violence duty, Clause 19 of the Bill seeks to amend the Crime and Disorder Act 1998. The 1998 Act introduced Community Safety Partnerships (CSPs) (formerly known as Crime and Disorder Reduction Partnerships) to help tackle crime and reduce offending. This clause amends the 1998 Act to ensure preventing and reducing serious violence is a priority for CSPs.

It is important to highlight that CSPs have had their funding steadily withdrawn since 2010, which will have an impact on the resources and capacity available. It would be helpful for the Government to review the impact of these funding reductions on CSPs and council’s ability to address the range of crime issues they are expected to assist other partners in tackling, with a view to increasing that core funding.

Offensive Weapons Homicide Review (Chapter 2, Clauses 23 - 35)

We would welcome the opportunity to contribute further to the provisions outlined for Offensive Weapons Homicide Reviews, to ensure there is consistency across all the current homicide review arrangements. It is important these reviews are piloted in local areas, and their impact is assessed, before any decisions are made on a national roll-out.

Any additional statutory duty placed on local authorities will need to be adequately funded. The accompanying statutory guidance will also need to robustly outline the criteria for an Offensive Weapons Homicide Review.

Imposing conditions on public processions, on public assemblies and on one-person protests (Part 3, Clauses 54, 55 & 60)

These clauses require further consultation, as they could have a considerable impact on local communities. The LGA will seek further clarity from the Government on these specific proposals.

Unauthorised encampments (Part 4)

Unauthorised encampments are an issue that can cause significant distress and inconvenience to local communities, as well as substantial costs to the statutory authorities trying to resolve the problems caused.

However not all councils have experienced issues with unauthorised encampments or have experienced significant problems where they have occurred. To inform this work, there is a need for better data on the number and scale of unauthorised encampments being established.

Although strengthened police powers offer the potential to help tackle unauthorised encampments, effectively tackling unauthorised encampments will require a multi-agency response and the resources to support this.

To support the use of both existing and any new powers, it is also important that Government moves quickly to bring forward the good practice guidance it has committed to produce to support councils to deal with unauthorised encampments, building on the range of best practice work that is already taking place.

This should include a focus on developing a collaborative approach involving members of the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller community to help to resolve some unauthorised encampments issues, which should be the first course of action wherever possible.

Positions of trust (Part 2, Chapter 4, Clause 45)

The LGA supports this clause, which will provide additional protection to young people who may be vulnerable to grooming. It brings duties for sports coaches and those teaching or supervising in religious settings into line with others working closely with children and young people.

Starting points for murder committed when under 18 (Part 7, Chapter 1, Clause 103)

The LGA supports a review of the minimum age of criminal responsibility and recommends that a minimum age of 14 is adopted, which is in line with recommendations made by the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child.

We therefore have concerns around the implementation of minimum terms for offences committed by those under 14. Murder is, of course, an exceptionally serious crime, and victims and their families deserve justice. It is important to note that research shows that the brain, in particular those parts involved in decision-making and risk behaviours, does not reach full maturation until adulthood. Conventional morality, including “law and order” morality, is generally not achieved until the mid-teens, and logical thinking abilities develop considerably between the ages of 11 and 15. This indicates the need for a different approach in working with these children and young people.

In addition, evidence suggests that younger children have higher levels of re-offending compared to those involved with the criminal justice system at a later age. The younger a child is when first having contact with juvenile justice, the more likely the child is to become entrenched in the justice system.

This does not support improved outcomes for the individual child or for society. Murder by young children is exceptionally rare, and each case is individually devastating. We therefore encourage consideration of how to deal with very young offenders in these cases on a case-by-case basis, to ensure these children receive appropriate support for a period of time and in a setting that takes into account the child’s development and circumstances, the specifics of the crime and a balance between rehabilitation and punishment.

Youth remand (Part 8, Clause 131)

We support the ambition of ensuring children are only remanded to custody where this is genuinely the only option. However, we have concerns around the practical implications of this, including ensuring the right support and placements are available for children on non-custodial remand, and ensuring children are not held on remand for lengthy periods of time. We are keen to discuss this further with the Government as we move to implement this clause.

Youth rehabilitation orders (Part 8, Clause 135)

This clause will see additional responsibilities placed on youth offending teams, which have already seen their funding cut by half over the last decade. We therefore call on the Government to consider resources available to youth offending teams when introducing this clause.

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Jade Hall, Public Affairs and Campaigns Adviser

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