Sajid Javid’s new knife crime laws ‘will criminalise the young’

A coalition of human rights groups is pressing the home secretary to scrap his new measures to tackle knife crime, branding them “deeply counterproductive”.

Sajid Javid’s knife crime prevention orders place a range of curbs and curfews on suspects, but groups working with young people including Liberty, the Runnymede Trust and the Children’s Society, say they have “profound human rights concerns”.

In a letter, they tell Javid the orders will unnecessarily criminalise young people, disproportionately applying to black and Asian youngsters.

Under the plans, children aged 12 or over could be issued with a breach of the order, a criminal offence that could result in up to two years in detention. Among concerns are the low standard of proof required to impose an order, which could be “based on assumptions and stereotypes relating to where a person lives, where they go to school or who they are friends with – all of which may be crude proxies for race or socio-economic status”.

The letter expresses concern that children could be imprisoned for breaching orders imposed on individuals who have not committed a criminal offence or who have been banned from doing things that are not criminal.

The number of fatal stabbings in England and Wales last year reached the highest level since records began in 1946, official figures have shown, with 285 killings by a knife or sharp instrument in the 12 months ending March 2018.

The Offensive Weapons Bill, which could bring prevention orders into force, reaches the Lords on Tuesday after passing through the Commons.

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The letter, also signed by the Standing Committee for Youth Justice, StopWatch, Just for Kids Law, the Howard League and the Prison Reform Trust, states: “Our assessment is that these orders will inevitably funnel children and young people into the criminal justice system.

“We are also concerned that these orders could result in children who are being exploited being targeted and criminalised, rather than safeguarded.”

The letter, which laments a lack of consultation, adds: “Given the current race disproportionality that exists across several aspects of the criminal justice system, we can infer that black, Asian and minority ethnic children and young people will be particularly affected.”

Rosalind Comyn, the policy and campaigns officer at Liberty, said: “These misguided proposals allow the police to impose punitive conditions on people’s everyday activities, based on mere hearsay evidence. People who are unable to meet these onerous conditions could face up to two years in prison. Far from addressing the root causes of knife crime, by marginalising and criminalising more young people, this order will likely exacerbate them.”

Introducing the measures, Javid said: “It is vital we continue to focus on improving the law enforcement response while at the same time steering young people away from criminal activity in the first place.”



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