A future Labour government will not increase funding for criminal justice, the shadow justice secretary said today, but will look to promote ‘more effective and less expensive’ alternatives to custody and price-competitive tendering for criminal defence services.
Speaking at a fringe event during the Labour Party conference in Manchester, Sadiq Khan MP said that the former Conservative justice secretary Kenneth Clarke had committed the Ministry of Justice to making cuts of £6bn. He predicted that the government’s autumn statement will confirm spending cuts well into the next parliament and that the idea of any green shoots coming up was gone.
Khan said: ‘The reality is that in 2015, when we will hopefully win the election, we won’t be able to turn the tap back on and increase funding for the criminal justice system.’
Instead he said a Labour government would look at measures to prevent crime and promote ‘more effective and less expensive’ alternatives to custody. In particular, he pointed to restorative justice, citing an example from Northern Ireland, which he said had reduced reoffending by 50% and given greater satisfaction to victims.
A triage initiative in Wandsworth, where police work with local agencies to divert young offenders away from the criminal justice system was also a good model that could be extended, he said.
Khan attributed the fall in youth offending, reoffending and imprisonment to Labour initiatives like setting up Sure Start, youth centres and encouraging young people to take college courses.
He said a more holistic multi-agency approach was needed to ensure young people do not get involved in crime and mooted the idea of pooled budgets between departments.
A high proportion of looked-after children end up in prison, he said, but if local authorities had an incentive to ensure they had an interest in the outcomes for those children it might help reduce the number who end up in custody.
On the new police and crime commissioners, Khan said that Labour was against politicisation of policing, but that in some areas the successful candidates might be able to help foster greater inter-agency working to help reduce crime and reoffending.
Khan did not directly answer a question about whether Labour would support further cuts to criminal legal aid, but he reiterated his party’s support for the introduction of price-competitive tendering for criminal defence services. He said that if it had been introduced, it would have saved money that have been used to fund legal aid in social welfare law.