James Waddington QC
I find it encouraging that knife crime is in the news. Whenever this happens, the likelihood of some change taking place dramatically increases.
The issue of knife crime has been in and out of the news for 55 years. Therefore, I was frustrated to hear talk in 2019 of demonising an entire generation. This is divisive and wrong. It is divisive because, cloaked in purported good intentions and glib words, it seeks to set one part of society against another. It is wrong because it has always been well known to be the case that a relatively few young people are responsible for the worst incidents. I see a lot of them. I represented them in the 1980s and 1990s. I have tried them since 2004. It is also wrong because media coverage, in highlighting the problem, dramatically increases the chances of something being done about it. This is exactly what has happened over the years.
The Prevention of Crime Act 1953 was enacted in the light of press concern about teddy boys. The topic has been in and out of the news like many other criminal behaviours ever since. Parliament has reacted by way of new legislation or increased sentences when this happens. After similar concern in the 1980s, there was the Criminal Justice Act 1988 which created offences of having a bladed article in public and also on school premises. After a period of austerity in the 1990s which like today had an impact on resources, during the 2000s, more resources were applied to policing and youth policy. In 2018, after very serious economic retrenchment, mandatory sentences of at least 6 months were introduced for second time knife offenders. The press is currently very interested in knife crime which is a serious problem. But, it is not the first time that it has been a serious problem. Probably the single biggest reason for the recent increase in murders is a lack of police presence.
There needs to be a bigger police presence on the streets with the minimum of intrusion into people’s private lives. All crime tends to go down when there are more police on the streets.
The Police need to continue to improve their relationship with the community. The police say that more work is being done on this at their end. They need to be more sensitive and also do more active work in the community. I think less stop and search is a good idea as I don’t think it is a very effective tool and it is very intrusive.