The outgoing Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), Alison Saunders is today facing widespread criticism in the media, with her tenure being described as “disastrous” and “having reduced the credibility of the role”. Yet, one significant aspect of her legacy is absent from the censure directed at her. She has presided over a catastrophic loss of confidence inside Britain’s Jewish community with regard to the will of the criminal justice system to protect it from the worst manifestations of resurgent antisemitism.
Ever since crime targeting British Jews began to surge in 2014, each successive year has set a new record for antisemitic crime, and each year fewer crimes have been charged. Between 2014 and 2016, antisemitic crime rose by 44.5% while prosecutions fell by 35.5%. In each of 2015 and 2016, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) prosecuted around 15,000 cases of hate crime, yet in neither year were we able to identify more than two dozen prosecutions of antisemitic crime.
The blame for this cannot be laid exclusively at the door of Ms Saunders and the CPS. Police forces across the country have played their part too, often through inadequate understanding or lack of will, failing to deal adequately with the rise in antisemitic crime. In particular, they have struggled to come to terms with social media where, as the whole country by now has seen, antisemitic hate speech is feral, exists in vast quantities and is frequently indistinguishable from the Jew-hatred propagated by the Nazi regime in the 1930s. However, even when the obstacles have been overcome and permission has been sought by the police to lay charges, the CPS has consistently batted away even the most extreme cases, including those where the murder of Jews is openly advocated. This refusal to proceed to prosecution in turn makes police forces less likely to investigate.
It seems that, under this DPP, the bar for prosecuting antisemitic crime has been set significantly higher than for other forms of hate crime. As yet, we have been unable to ascertain why, and our attempts to work in a collaborative way with Ms Saunders to resolve the problem have been rebuffed. In 2015 we met with Ms Saunders and Theresa May (in her role as Home Secretary), and agreed a number of actions to address the way in which the CPS handles antisemitic hate crime. None were implemented. The following year, we met with her again to set out our concerns and to put forward constructive suggestions for tackling them. Several weeks later, we were notified in writing that she no longer wished to consider our proposals.
In short, Ms Saunders’ failure to respond adequately to antisemitic hate crime has done much to convince those who harbour ill will towards Jews that they can act with impunity. It is highly likely that there is a direct connection between this dereliction of duty and the rampant antisemitic hatred on social media that has been exposed in recent days. It is therefore no surprise that our Antisemitism Barometer published last year revealed that half of British Jews believed the CPS is doing too little to fight antisemitism and that only 39% felt that hate crimes against them would be prosecuted.
We have sought to hold the CPS to account through judicial reviews and private prosecutions but these unprecedented measures cannot be the way forward. They must not be allowed to become the only route by which Britain’s Jewish community can obtain justice and the protection that recent revelations in the political arena have shown are more necessary than ever.
By adopting our recommendations on training and oversight, whoever replaces Ms Saunders as DPP will have the opportunity to regain the confidence of the Jewish community. It is an opportunity that must not be squandered.