Monday, 16 September 2013

Why on earth is the DPP getting tough on benefit cheats?

Keir Starmer steps down as Director of Public Prosecutions next month after five years in the job. It seems strange that someone usually thought of as a liberal and who according to the Attorney General brought humanity to his role should bow out by introducing a crackdown on benefit cheats.  
His period in office has after all been marked by a growing unease about how the criminal law operates not at the bottom of society but at the top.  The apparently random nature of prosecutions of MP’s following the expenses scandal and the almost total absence of criminal sanctions for financial abuses   might have prompted Starmer to propose it was a time for a tougher stance on white collar crime. The importance he attaches of the cost of the crime to the nation would more reasonably lead him to focus on tax fraud which costs the UK seven times as much as benefit fraud.  But for whatever reason he seems to have turned his fire on claimants.   The Prime Minister warmly welcomed the announcement so Starmer presumably did his own prospects no harm.

His line may not find so much favour with his colleagues on the Sentencing Council whose role he seems to be usurping or ministers who are going round the country telling magistrates to deal with more cases themselves rather than send them to the Crown Court. But the troubling question is on what basis Mr Starmer took his decision. Was there any new research upon which he based his proposal?  Or consultation about it? Or an impact assessment of the extra costs involved? If so, he should publish this supporting material. Otherwise it looks mean spirited, self- serving and unworthy of the post.

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