Judges 'fail to recognise new professionalism': MPs told police have changed

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THE POLICE have abandoned the 'confession culture' but the judiciary has failed to recognise the new professionalism of the service, Paul Condon, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, said yesterday.

Questioned by MPs on the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee, Mr Condon firmly rejected 'noble cause corruption' - the idea that it was permissible for police to commit perjury with good intention. He said that the police had moved on. Officers no longer relied upon confessions as the sole means of obtaining evidence and were not allowed to write up notes together after arrests.

As a result, Mr Condon said, they often gave evidence containing minor discrepancies - such as the time a raid occurred - which led to an increase in judges directing juries to acquit defendants. This was because judges had not appreciated that police had changed. 'The fact that police officers give different evidence in court is not a sign of lying, it is a sign of honesty,' he said.

During the hearing, Mr Condon disclosed that last year's increase in crime in London was only 2 per cent above 1991 - a marked reduction over the increases of 10 per cent or more in recent years; he said this may be due to the figures for burglaries, which had increased by only 1 per cent following intensive campaigns.

Mr Condon said that he wanted to see the Royal Commission on Criminal Justice 'restore the balance' in the criminal justice system, which was currently heavily weighted in favour of the accused. This meant ending the automatic right to silence and the 'ludicrous' rules on disclosure, which made it impossible to deal with professional criminals and led to prosecutions being abandoned to protect informants.

He supported criticisms that the Criminal Justice Act needed reviewing following complaints that past convictions were not allowed to be taken into consideration before sentencing. '(It) was conceived in haste, it hasn't worked, it is not in the public interest and I think it needs to be re-examined.'

Mr Condon said that increased bureaucracy in the system and lack of public confidence meant young officers felt under siege. This meant they often used their discretion when it came to deciding whether to arrest or caution an offender; this was a major contributory factor to the decline in arrest rates.

Reforms of police budgeting and authorities announced on Tuesday by Kenneth Clarke, the Home Secretary, which included the creation of a police authority for London, were welcomed by Mr Condon. 'The police service has nothing to fear from any scrutiny of its performance. I would like to see us caught bang to rights doing something right occasionally,' he said.