Sir Ken McDonald QC, the just-retired Director of Public Prosecutions, has a powerful piece in The Times today, calling for prosecutions of some of the people whose management of our banking system went way beyond what was reasonable, and became reckless.
Apart from the main thread of the piece, he makes a number of points about this Government's approach to criminal justice:-
In Britain we had an additional burden: legislators who preferred criminal justice to be an auction of fake toughness, so long as the toughness was not too tough to design. So no one likes terrorists? Let's bring in lots of terror laws, the tougher the better. Let's lock up nasty people longer, and for longer before they are charged. Let's stop medieval clerics winding up the tabloids. Let's stop off-colour comedians outraging homophobic preachers. Let's pretend that outlawing offensiveness makes the world less offensive.Sir Ken is a distinguished lawyer who knows and understands the system. His remarks above are a devastating condemnation of the Blair/Straw/Blunkett/Clarke/Reed/Smith posturing and gesture politics that has done so much to damage the criminal justice system, and so little to protect the public.
This frequently made useful headlines. But it didn't make our country or any other country a better or safer place to live. It didn't respect our way of life. It brought us the War on Terror and it didn't make it any easier for us to progress into the future with comfort and security.
Our legislators faltered because they seemed to ignore the fact that what makes good politics doesn't always make good policy. And they didn't want to tackle the more complex issues that really affect safety in people's lives. It was easier to throw increasingly illiberal sound bites at a shadowy and fearsome enemy.
In Britain, no one has any confidence that fraud in the banks will be prosecuted as crime. But it is absolutely critical to public confidence that it should be. If there was fraud in RBS or in any of the other failed banking institutions, if there was fraudulent misselling or corruption or any other criminal activity, it needs to be uncovered and dealt with. The alternative is the worst possible lesson for our national life.
Do people believe this will happen? No, they don't - and that is a damning and corrosive conclusion, encouraging deep cynicism towards our national institutions. For all the fashionable talk of rebalancing criminal justice in favour of victims, for all the talk of community engagement and targeting offenders, this is the acid test.
Forget the paranoiac paraphernalia of national databases, identity cards and all the other liberty-sapping addictions of the Home Office. Forget the rhetoric and do something useful. If the Government really wants to protect people beyond armoured-vest posturing, here is the opportunity.