|Some of you may think it rather odd
that a policeman should be chosen to give a lecture in memory of a television broadcaster.
No two jobs could be further apart. Richard Dimbleby excelled at giving facts and opinions
to the public. Whatever achievements policemen can claim,, the ability to communicate is
certainly not one of them. We share with another more famous service tradition of silence.
Perhaps in our case this arises from agreeing with the Book of Proverbs that even a fool
when he holdeth his peace is counted as wise. But I don’t think that our silence has
been altogether a good thing. People are very interested in sin and crime, and this
curiosity is continually satisfied by the journalist, the crime novelist, the film and
television producer. Most of them are understandably more concerned to entertain than to
enlighten, but it is largely from them that you get your ideas about the Police.
Most people rarely have anything to do with
the Police. Most of you don’t break the law – at least not in ways likely to attract
our attention. Even in London, the chances of first-hand contact are not high. Of London’s
eight million citizens, we last year arrested about 148,000, counting everyone, teenagers,
children who were never prosecuted, offenders of all kinds from serious criminals to
drunks. That’s only about seven or eight arrests in the year for every member of the
Force –a figure that might be surprising to some of you. Those who come to us as
victims, their homes burgled or their cars stolen, are also comparatively few. The result
is that most of you have impressions on the Police vaguely fashioned by crime stories, by
Dixon or Barlow, and the chances are that these impressions will be pretty far from the
There can be no doubt about the importance
of the Police. In theory your safety and liberty depend upon the laws and the
Constitution, but in practice the decisions of Parliament and the courts would count for
very little if the Police were not there to enforce them. Some people think that this
makes us a powerful body. ‘Power’ is an emotive word, particularly in relation to the
Police. It suggests a right to punish at will, free from effective control. In fact, of
course, we have no such power. Our development has always been conditioned by two
conflicting needs: one, to maintain order and protect people: the other, to ensure that we
ourselves so not act unreasonably or oppressively. For this reason the Police have always
remained few in number and answerable to the general law. WEE have no special immunities.
A policeman who breaks the law is prosecuted and punished just like anyone else. The only
power we posses is the power to inconvenience by bringing people before the courts and
even then we are at risk if we use that power improperly or unfairly. The fact the British
Police are answerable to the law, that w act on behalf of the community and not under a
mantle of government, makes us the least powerful, the most accountable and therefore the
most acceptable Police in the world.
It is true to say that a policeman
discharges responsibilities than that he exercises powers. He is only an ordinary member
of the community who has undertaken certain duties on behalf of his fellow citizens. These
responsibilities have grown wider and more complicated. When most people were humble,
ignorant and poor, it was comparatively easy to do our job without effective criticism.
Authority as such was respected. But society today is better equipped to question
political motives and decisions, and dissent is now a vehicle of social change. But of
course, this new freedom is bound to create stra8ins within the community.
The problem is aggravated by other factors.
We are an insular and conservative people, asked in one generation to become a tolerant
multicultural society. Inequality of opportunity in jobs and housing doesn’t make the
change any easier. So the maintenance of order, particularly in the great cities, is now
one of our most important duties. It differs significantly from maintaining order in an
earlier age. Dissent nowadays originates not so much from the slums as from highly
educated radicals and organised labour. It enjoys wide public support and is viewed by the
courts at all levels with tolerance that would have astonished their forbears. The brief
imprisonment of five London Dockers last year is a far cry from the Tolpuddle martyrs.
This doesn’t mean that there is support for the extremist. The terrorist or the urban
guerrilla, though eminently newsworthy, is a nuisance rather than a threat to society. He
may injure or kill, he may destroy property, but his activities are certain to alienate
the community from his cause.
Of all the problems with which the Police
have to contend, undoubtedly the most continuous id the prevention and investigation of
crime. But you must remember that this is only one part of our system of criminal justice.
You should think of it as having four successive stages. First comes the enactment by
Parliament of the criminal laws. Secondly, the task of the Police to enforce them. The
third stage is the criminal trial, where the question of guilt is decided. Finally, there
is the question of what to do with the guilty. Each of these four stages has usually been
considered in isolation. Each tends to be the province of a different group of people.
Politicians make the laws, police enforce them, lawyers run the trials, and the prison or
probation service deals with convicted offenders. None of these groups is obliged to give
much thought to the problems of the others or to consider the working of the system as a
This is unfortunate because the different
parts of the system are intimately connected. It’s no good Parliament passing laws if
the Police can’t enforce them. There’s no point in catching criminals if the system of
trial is so ineffective that it lest them go free. Savage punishments serve no purpose if
very few offenders are actually caught and punished. Equally, Parliament and the Police
are wasting their time if penalties are so small that it pays people to on offending. Put
like that, you may think these points self-evident, but in practice people often fail to
make the necessary connection. That is why I’m going to have quite a lot to say (and I
ought to make it clear that I am saying it on my own responsibility) about aspects of
justice which you may think are strictly not the business of the Police: the criminal law,
the system of trial and the question of punishment. These things all affect our work to an
extent which is not sufficiently realised.
Take for example the criminal law. Our
attempts to enforce some laws are bound to be regarded by some people without enthusiasm
or even with downright hostility. In fact, the only crimes we can tackle knowing that we
shall have your full support are those which provoke a sense of public outrage. Murder in
the course of theft or rape, violence against women, children or old people, robbery, are
obvious examples. But these are few in number: only about 3 or 4 per cent of crime. By
contrast, trying to enforce controversial laws, like those about illegal immigration or
trade disputes, provides reactions ranging from pained criticism to physical resistance.
Those who oppose new laws don’t abandon their opposition when the laws reach the statute
book: they redirect it against the Police. However illogical or unfair, we must accept
this as a fact of life. People often feel so strongly about the issues which provoke
demonstrations or strikes that they find it difficult to see why they shouldn’t give
forcible expression to their views. But the use of force in these situations is a serious
threat to our democracy. WE cannot allow some people to use or condone violence which
denies freedom to others. Free speech and the right to work are among the rights
guaranteed by the law, and it’s the duty of the Police to uphold them. We often find
this task extremely difficult. It calls for tact, firmness, tolerance and self-control to
an extent not always appreciated. You may remember that the summer of last year we had
some lively demonstrations by London dockers. As a result we were accused by the right
wing of being weak, vacillating and indecisive, and by the left of being unreasonable,
arbitrary and brutal. Perhaps that means we got it about right. At any rate, there were no
significant casualties –except perhaps the truth.
It’s almost as difficult to deal with
offences which people, for one reason or another, don’t feel strongly about or don’t
think of as morally wrong. Motoring offences are the best example, but the same thing can
be said of crimes like evading tax or fiddling expenses, which are difficult to detect, so
that those who are caught look as if they have been unfairly singled out for punishment.
We tend to be criticised both for enforcing laws and for failing to enforce them. People
sometimes expect results, which the state of the law and public opinion simply will not
A good example of this is the recent
campaign about pornography. The Metropolitan police were accused, unsuccessfully, of
failing to exercise their powers to enforce the laws against pornography. It was said that
we could clean up Soho in a few days if only we were willing to do so, and despite the
pressure of business in the High Court and the Court of Appeal, priority was given to
deciding the issues involved. The truth is that pornography is very difficult to control.
The point at which it becomes unlawful is almost impossible to define, so that contested
prosecutions are rather like a game of chance. There is no power of arrest and cases take
a long time to come on – at present, several months in the lower court and a year in the
higher. Hard-core pornography remains available at particular premises despite police
action. One address in Soho has been raided no less than 35 times in the past 12 months,
the occupant no doubt having decided that the profits outweigh the risks. Prosecutions can
be lengthy and expensive, and even if successful the penalties are usually no more than a
light tax on an extremely profitable trade.
Don’t think that I am criticising the
lightness of these fines. They are mostly determined by the maximum penalties open to the
courts. We are short of men and even if we weren’t, we must have some scale of
priorities. If the rate of convictions and the penalties are any indications of how
seriously the community regards obscene publications, it’s hardly sensible to expect of
us to put hundreds of men onto cleaning up Soho. They would only increase the backlog of
cases awaiting trial. There have even been suggestions that pornographers buy immunity by
corrupting the Police. This would be a most unbusinesslike thing to do. It’s far cheaper
to pay fines than to incur the expense and risk of trying to bribe a policemen.
Our experience with pornography shows that
some activities, even if most people think them undesirable or offensive, cannot in
practice, be stopped. The most one can hope for is to regulate the way in which they are
carried on. Gambling, brothel-keeping, unconventional sexual practices are all in this
category. There is no certainty that very severe penalties would suppress them. The demand
will always be there. A more likely effect is that they would be driven underground,
raising the cost to the consumer and the profit to those willing to take the risks. The
incentive to oppose or corrupt the police would be greatly increased. Prohibition in the
United States, which created a climate in which gangsters could thrive, is the classic
example of a self-defeating attempt to eradicate the ineradicable.
What is needed is to find the right
balance, to achieve a degree of control acceptable to the public and, at the same time,
enforceable in practice. Those who frame new laws sometimes give insufficient weight to
the difficulties of enforcement. They devote much care and time to debating the moral
implications, but assume, often quite wrongly, that people can be made to obey them. Once
enacted some laws are dumped like unwanted babies on the back door of the police station
with little or no inquiry as to their eventual health. Some of them are found to be
stillborn and others are dying for lack of teeth. Public criticism of their
ineffectiveness is usually directed at the Police rather than at difficulties over which
they have no control, such as the process of trial.
What about our system of trial? In
particular, the trial by jury of serious offenders. I suppose that most of you believe
that our system of trial is the best in the world. If it doesn’t quite attain
perfection, it’s only because of the fallible human beings who celebrate the sacred
rites in the temple of justice. I use these rather heavy religious metaphors because the
public’s confidence in our present system of trial by jury is essentially a matter of
faith. It is based on practically no evidence whatever. No one has ever thought it
necessary to make a full practical and impartial investigation of how the system works.
Indeed, in the present state of the law no such investigation is possible.
Take, for example, the jury, the very heart
of the criminal trial. There is very little reliable information about how and why juries
arrive at their verdicts, because no one is allowed to listen to the discussions in the
Jury Room. Lawyers obviously believe that public confidence in the jury would be
undermined if this were allowed to happen. I find that curious. If exposing the truth
about the jury would destroy the public’s belief in its value, then surely it’s high
time that belief was destroyed. I cannot think of any other social institution which is
protected from rational inquiry because investigation might show that it wasn’t doing
Let me make it clear that I’m not making
an attack on trial by jury. What I’m complaining about is the atmosphere of sacred
mystery which always obscures any discussion of the jury. Of course, I have my private
views about juries, based on my own experience. For example, I think that it’s very
important to retain juries in offences against the state, like trials under the Official
Secrets Act. On the other hand, I find it difficult to imagine a more inefficient way of
trying a complicated fraud case. But these are my own views, and I don’t claim they are
more scientific than those of other people, who may think differently. The fact is that no
one has the evidence upon which it would be possible to make a fair assessment. What I
would like to see is a careful study to provide us with the material with which we could
we could evaluate trial by jury. And I would like to see the study cover the whole system
or criminal justice.
What we do know about trials in higher
courts doesn’t justify any complacency. Indeed there is one fact I cam mention which
should be enough in itself to demand some kind of inquiry. This is the rate of acquittals.
Of all the people in England and Wales who plead not guilty and are tried by jury, about
half are acquitted. You may perhaps say to yourselves: ‘Well, why nor? Perhaps they
really were innocent. How do the Police know that they are guilty? But things are no quite
so simple. For one thing the English criminal trial never decides whether the accused is
innocent. The only question is whether, in accordance with the rules of evidence the
prosecution has proved that he is guilty. –and this is not the same thing. There may be
all kinds of reasons why the jury do not think that the prosecution has proved guilt. They
may think that he probably did it but that the defence has raised some reasonable doubt.
Or sometimes a piece of evidence which would have put the matter beyond doubt is not
available, or is excluded by the rules of evidence. Occasionally they are just taken in by
a false but plausible story, or by an exceptionally persuasive advocate. You must not,
therefore, think that anyone who is acquitted must have been innocent. There are many
other possible explanations. But one thing is certain. Every acquittal is a case in which
either a guilty man has been allowed to got free or an innocent citizen has been put to
the trouble and expense of defending himself.
There must be some rate of failure. We can’t
always expect to convict the guilty or never to prosecute the innocent, But, in my
opinion, a failure rate of on in two is far too high. In the absence of any reliable
research, no one can say with any certainty why the acquittal rate is do high. A fairly
high number of acquittals are undoubtedly by direction of the judges, as soon as they’ve
heard the prosecution case. Since 1967, cases are no longer sifted effectively by a
magistrate, and the higher courts are cluttered up with cases which should never have got
there at all. This probably accounts for what seem to be an increase since 1966 from 39
per cent to about 50 per cent in acquittals,. And tends to obscure the problem I’m
My own view is, nevertheless, that the
proportion of those whom experienced police officers believe to be guilty is too high to
be acceptable. That opinion is admittedly not universal. Many people, particularly
lawyers, would disagree. When Sir Elwyn Jones, the former Attorney General, was once asked
why the acquittal rate in some Welsh counties was as high s 90 per cent, he said: ‘Well,
ladies and gentlemen, Welsh juries are generally in favour of justice, but they’re not
bigoted about it.’ I wouldn’t deny that sometimes common sense and humanity an
acquittal which could not be justified in law, but this kind of case is much rarer than
you might suppose. Much more frequent are the cases in which the defects and uncertainties
in the system are ruthlessly exploited by the knowledgeable criminal and his advisers.
The object of a trial is to decide whether the prosecution has proven guilt. It is, of
course, right that in a serious criminal case the burden of proof should be upon the
prosecution. But in trying to discharge that burden, the prosecution has to act within a
complicated framework of rules which were designed to give every advantage to the defence.
The prosecution has to give the defence advance notice of the whole of its case, but the
accused, unless he wants to raise an alibi, can keep his a secret until the actual trial.
When the Police interrogate a suspect or charge him, they have to keep reminding him that
he need not say anything, If he has a criminal record, the jury are not ordinarily allowed
to know about it. Most of these rules are very old. They date from a time when, incredible
as it may seem, an accused person was not allowed to give evidence in his own defence,
when most accused were ignorant and illiterate. There was no legal aid, and, perhaps most
important, if someone was convicted he would most likely be hanged or transported. Under
these conditions it’s not surprising that the judges who made the rules were concerned
to give the accused every possible protection. But it is, to say the least, arguable that
the same rules are not suited to the trial of an experienced criminal, using skilled legal
assistance, in the 20th century.
The criminal and his lawyers take every
advantage of these technical rules. Every effort is made to find some procedural mistake
which will allow the wrongdoer to slip through the net. If the prosecution evidence is
strong, the defence frequently resorts to attacks on prosecution witnesses, particularly
if they are policemen. They will be accused, as a matter of routine, of perjury, planting
evidence, intimidation or violence. What other defence is there, when someone is found in
possession of drugs, explosives or firearms, than to say they were planted? Lies of this
kind are a normal form of defence, but they are sure to be given extensive publicity. In
many criminal trials, the deciding factor is not the actual evidence but the contest
between a skilled advocate and a policeman or other witness under this kind of attack,
which is often part of what Lord Devlin calls ‘the world of fantasy created by defence
counsel at a loss for anything better to do on behalf of his client.’.
The advocate for the defence are, for the
most part, only doing their job. They are there to get their client off. In a hopeless or
unpopular case, this can be a distasteful task. To be a criminal lawyer needs professional
knowledge, integrity and, when acting for the defence, moral courage. Whatever his
personal feelings about the case, the lawyer must devote himself to the cause of his
client with all the persuasion and skill at his command. At the same time, he owes a duty
to the cause of justice and the ethics of the profession. He must not put forward a
defence, which he knows to be false. It is not for a defence lawyer to judge his client’s
case. However unlikely his story may sound, he is entitled to have it heard. But it’s a
different matter for an advocate to say things, which he knows to be deliberate lies. To
do this is not to take part in the administration of justice but to defeat it. Most
lawyers observe very high standards. They manage to serve both their clients’ and the
public interest honourably and well. So much so that most of them tend to be frankly
incredulous when it is suggested that there are some other lawyers who do not. The kind of
behaviour I have in mind is often easy for the Police to recognise but almost impossible
We see the same lawyers
producing, off the peg, the same kind of defence for different clients.
Prosecution witnesses suddenly and inexcusably change their minds. Defences are concocted
far beyond the intellectual capacity of the accused, False alibis are put forward.
Extraneous issues damaging to police credibility are introduced. All these are part of the
stock-in-trade of a small minority of criminal lawyers. The truth is that some trials of
deliberate crimes for profit –robbery, burglary and so on- involve a sordid, bitter
struggle of wits and tactics between the detective and the lawyer. Public accusations of
misconduct, however, have always been one-sided, with the result that doubts about the
criminal trial most centre upon police conduct, as if the Police alone had a motive for
improper behaviour. Let there be no doubt that a minority of criminal lawyers do very well
from the proceeds of crime. A reputation for success, achieved by persistent lack of
scruple in the defence of the most disreputable, soon attracts other clients who see
little hope of acquittal in any other way. Respected Metropolitan detectives
can identify lawyers in criminal practice who are more harmful to society than the clients
A conviction said to result from perjury or
wrongdoing by police rightly causes a public outcry. Acquittal, no matter how blatantly
perverse, never does, even if brought about by highly-paid forensic trickery. Of course, I
speak in general terms. I would like to be more specific, for obvious reasons I can’t
be. I’m conscious, too, that people who make general accusations can be said to be
willing to wound and yet be afraid to strike. This doesn’t mean that such general
accusations ought not sometimes to be made. They are often made against the Police, no
doubt for similar reasons, nor are they always without substance.
I ought perhaps to give you two examples to
illustrate what I mean. The first is a form of questioning to smear a member of the Flying
Squad of unblemished character giving evidence in a strong case. ‘Are you a member of
the Flying Squad? And is it not a fact that four or more members of that Squad are
presently suspended on suspicion of corruption?’ Before the judge can intervene, the
damage is done. The jury is influenced by the smear in direct contravention of the
principles governing the criminal trial. That kind of theme is played extensively and with
The second example is
what Conan Doyle would have called ‘The Curious Case of the Bingo Register’. This was
a case in which a hardened criminal burgled a flat and wounded one of the elderly
occupants very badly. He was identified and arrested: he denied the offences and was
remanded to prison. A month after committal for trial, his solicitor disclosed an alibi
defence which suggested that he was playing bingo at a club on the night of the offence
and had signed the visitors book. Inquiry showed that the prisoner had actually signed the
book at the foot of the relevant page, but that, unfortunately for him, the two preceding
and the two following signatures were those of people with different surnames who had
visited the club in one group and signed the book together. The signature could only have
been entered later, therefore, and it would seem, must have been written in prison. The
prosecution notified the defence of their findings. Defence counsel thereupon withdraw
from the case, as indeed did the instructing solicitor. The prisoner, on the advise of his
new solicitor and counsel, pleaded guilty and the matter rested there. It was not, of
course, possible to prove who had take the visitors’ book to prison although the prison
authorities pointed out drily that only a visit by a lawyer or his clerk would be
unsupervised and such visits had occurred. This was , in fact, a painstaking attempt to
establish a false alibi for a dangerous persistent criminal. The police looked upon the
case as remarkable only in that they were able to prove the falsity of the alibi.
Because of its technicality and its uncertainty, the criminal trial has
come to be regarded as a game of skill and chances in which the rules are binding on one
side only. It is hardly surprising that a policeman’s belief in its fairness should
decline as he gathers experiences, or that he should be tempted to depart from the rules.
The detective is the person most affected because it is he who regularly bears the brunt
of the trial process. In theory, he’s devoted only to the cause of justice. He likes to
think of himself as having no personal interest in acquittal, or sentence, and that his
career is not affected by the outcome of his cases. In practice this is a gross
oversimplification. Most detectives have a strong sense of commitment. It would be
unnatural if they did not feel personally involved in some of their cases, and it would be
untrue to suggest that they are not sometimes outraged by the results. All are under
occasional temptation to bend the rules to convict those whom they believe to be guilty,
if only because convention has always inhibited them from saying how badly they think
those rules work. A few may sometimes be tempted also to exploit the system for personal
gain. A detective who finds general acceptance of a system which protects the wrongdoer
can come to think that if crime seems to pay for everyone else why not for him? The next
step may be to demand money for not opposing bail, for not preferring charges, for
omitting serious charges for a share in the stolen property, and so on. Not many, even of
those who regard the system with cynical disillusion, give way to that kind of temptation,
but it’s no help to pretend that it doesn’t happen. As a policeman, I believe in the
virtue of confession for ourselves no less than for our customers. In the past we have
paid heavily and unnecessarily in loss of public confidence for trying to conceal or
minimise the wrongdoing of a very few. I think it absolutely essential to expose it and
deal with it ruthlessly. Even a little corruption of that kind does untold damage to the
reputation of a service which little deserves it.
Complaints against the Police
A few of you may have heard of the new A10 Branch that we in the Metropolitan Police have
created to deal with complaints against policemen. I think that most people who have had
any dealings with A10 will agree that it has demonstrated beyond any doubt our willingness
and ability to deal swiftly and effectively with our own wrongdoers. Well over a hundred
officers have left the Force, voluntarily or otherwise, since the change of system for
investigating complaints. We realise, however, that that the procedure has one major
drawback, It looks like a judgement of policemen by other policemen. So long as this
remains the case, some of you may understandably, be sceptical. No one likes to accept the
verdict of a person thought to be a judge in his own cause. That is why the Home Office
are trying to devise a system of outside review of such investigations which will have
everyone’s confidence. It isn’t easy, but the sooner that this obstacle to public
confidence can be overcome, the better –for the Police more than anyone else. I think
that an independent review will do much to dispel such distrust as remains. False
accusation against the Police in court are all the more effective when juries know that
similar accusations have sometimes been shown to be true. It is sad but understandable
that opposition to some of the recent proposals for reforming the system of trial has been
based less on evidence or logic than upon distrust of the Police.
But when you consider the arguments put
forward in defence of the present rules of trial, it is important for you to appreciate
that there may be vested interests in their continuance. The practice of criminal law,
either by solicitors or a barrister, is not a public service. It is done for money. The
more subtle the rules and doubtful the outcome, the more opportunity to for the advocate
to show his skill on either side. On the other hand, if the criminal trial were less of a
game, lawyers would not be able to have so much effect on the verdict. I can’t help
thinking that that would be a good thing. It is wrong that a man should need an expensive
lawyer to establish his innocence. Nor should skilful lawyers be able to secure the
acquittal of the guilty.
Consider the implications of the famous
BBC Television Face to Face interview between Mr John Freeman and the late Lord Birkett.
Do you happen to remember how many
successful murder defences you undertook in your career at the Bar?
If it doesn’t sound immodest, it’s easier to remember
those in which I failed.
Well how many did you fail in?
Well, three, I think.
Out of many dozens?
Out of many dozens, yes.
Now I want to ask you: did you yourself always believe in the innocence of your
clients when you defended them?
To be quite frank, no.
Would you think it was your duty as counsel to use every possible trick within the
law to get a man acquitted?
Well I don’t like the word ‘trick’. I would be against
tricks of all kinds. But I think if you would alter the question to saying, ‘Do you
regard it as your duty to do everything in your power, within the rules, to get him
acquitted?’ I would say yes.
Have you ever got a man acquitted, or a woman acquitted, on a murder charge whom
you believed in your heart to be guilty?
Any regrets about that?
Those of you who are unfamiliar with the
process of criminal justice may now find it easier to understand Dr Johnson’s comment
that the lawyer has no business with the justice or injustice of the cause which he
undertakes. You may also find it easier to understand that when lawyers and policemen
speak of justice they are not necessarily speaking of the same thing. The lawyer is often
speaking of fair play according to the rules. The policeman is speaking of the
establishment of the truth, with which the system of criminal justice is not necessarily
concerned. This at least can be said: those police officers who are closely concerned with
our present system of investigation and trial do not share the complacency with which it
is viewed by lawyers generally.
Many people think that the answer to crime
is to punish more severely, but I doubt whether this is often true. Failure to deal with
deliberate crime doesn’t have much to do with the penalties being inadequate. The real
causes lie in the inefficiency of the earlier stages of the process –the stages of
investigation and trial. I don’t think that professional criminals carry on their trade
because they take a light view of the punishments which the law may inflict. It is rather
because they think that they have an excellent chance of escaping punishment altogether.
There’s a fair amount of evidence to encourage them in this belief. Some of the most
notorious post-war criminals have had the better of many encounters with the law, chalking
up several acquittals before the final downfall. Of course, I’m not saying that
punishments do not matter. There’s no point in convicting people if you then put them on
the back and let them go. But I do think that our present scale of punishments would, in
most cases, be perfectly adequate if only we could improve the rates of detection and of
Demands for heavier punishment s seem to me
to reflect frustration at our apparent inability to check the growth of crime,
particularly those crimes involving violence. But they always stop short of emotional
appeal and blind belief. Few people seem aware, for example, that a high proportion of
crimes or violence are cleared up because the identity of many of the wrongdoers is known
at the outset and because the Police, understandably, give a high priority to the
remainder. The overall picture of crime is not at all what you might suppose from
newspapers and television. The most troublesome aspect has been the increase in crimes of
violence motivated by theft, which now shows signs of diminishing or at least levelling
out, and the extent to which young people indulge in violence often without rational
motive. But the remainder of e picture ought not to be distorted by emotion. It has, in
fact, a number of encouraging features.
There is no crisis in law and order,
whatever people may say. We are still a generally law-abiding nation. Our criminal law now
values life more highly than property. Since the war it has been adapted to current
attitudes and standards to a quite remarkable extent. Betting, gaming, prostitution,
homosexuality, abortion present few serious problems to the Police as compared with the
aura or corruption, distrust and resentment generated by some of those activities in the
Thirties. We continue to look on the private possession of fire-arms as vaguely
anti-social and their use by criminals as outrageous. The Police themselves object to
being armed, other than for exceptional and dangerous tasks. We are free from political
interference in operational matters. Our non-elective judges are similarly free from
political interference and rightly enjoy a world-wide reputation for integrity and
impartiality. The effect of crime on the individual who experiences it, though unpleasant,
has never been more widely offset, either by private insurance or the welfare state. The
Criminal Injuries Compensation Board last year paid more than 3 £3 million to the
criminally assaulted. There is nothing in our present situation to justify hasty or
extreme change, notwithstanding the emotion aroused by reports of particular crimes like
mugging and bombing. That some change is necessary is, I think, beyond doubt, but it
should reflect consideration of system as a whole, and it should aim at increased
effectiveness rather than more severe punishment.
The more effective the law in establishing
the truth, or if you like, responsibility, the less people will want to hit out with
drastic penalties. There are, I think, two needs. The first, obvious and not
controversial, is an increase in Police manpower, in London in particular. The second,
highly controversial, is a change in both investigation and trial to make the discovery of
the truth more likely. That might be achieved by relating the credibility of the accused
person, at least to some extent, to his spontaneity rather than to that period of
reflection and consultation between arrest and trial which has produced some of the most
ingenious, predictable and profitable fiction of our time.
Unwillingness to make the law more
effective will inevitably provoke demands for harsher punishments and will increase the
pressure on the Police to use more arbitrary methods. You can already see this in the
United States, where a society of great wealth and outstanding achievement is marred by a
system is marred by a system of justice notorious for ineffectuality, corruption and
violence. A land of opportunity indeed – not least for the criminal, the lawyer and the
gunsmith. If we in Great Britain are to police by consent, rather than by the paramilitary
system they have in the United States and many other countries, we must avoid a drift to
alienation of police and people. Our system of justice must be respected by the people for
being effective without being unjust, and maintained by a police force that is efficient
without being repressive.
Some people cling to a curious, old
fashioned belief that there is something vaguely improper in a policemen talking about the
law the courts and lawyers. No doubt the General Staff felt the same way about the
infantryman on Somme. But, as Lord Devlin said, ‘the Police have a right to demand that
the path they must tread should clearly be clearly designed to lead to a just result for
the community for whom they act, as well as for the accused.’ You simply cannot ask men
to do one of the more difficult and sometimes dangerous jobs of our time, and expect them
not to reason why. Or if you do, you will be unlikely to attract and retain the kind of
men you want. The policeman knows as much about crime and investigation as anyone. Of
course his view should not necessarily prevail. But it should be heard. It may be the
verdict of a minority, but our system of justice is too important to be left to any to any
one section of society, lawyers or police. It should be the concern of all.
Dimbleby Lecture, entitled ‘Minority Verdict’, was broadcast on BBC1 on 6 November.