University of Leicester eBulletin

'Scales of Justice Swung Too Far' says Police Commissioner

March 2002

Attack on criminal justice system by leading Leicester graduate


A hard-hitting speech that attacked the criminal justice system for allowing the guilty to go free, and treating victims and witnesses shabbily, was made at the University of Leicester by Sir John Stevens, Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police.

Sir John, who is both a graduate and honorary graduate of the University of Leicester, returned to the campus for the third public occasion in a year to deliver the Graduates’ Association and Haldane Society Public Lecture in celebration of the University’s 80th Anniversary.

The public lecture, The Search for Truth in the Criminal Justice System, was delivered on Wednesday 6 March at 6pm, Lecture Theatre 1, Ken Edwards Building, University of Leicester. 

Sir John’s lecture argued that the balance of the scales of justice has now swung too far in favour of the defendant: “As a result, victims and witnesses are too afraid to come forward for fear of being put through the criminal justice system.

“Victims and witnesses are treated so shabbily. They are open to intimidation outside court, harassment in the witness box and inadequate recompense for wasted time. In consequence, the guilty are going free, crime is rising and offenders are gaining more and more confidence that they will go unpunished.”

Sir John does not blame the practitioners of law but the system in which they are obliged to operate: “It means the whole process is like some kind of horse trial where the prosecution must go round the circuit without a fault and the defence only has to leave one fence standing - the element of doubt - to secure a victory.”

A short biography of Sir John follows:


All graduates of the University of Leicester are automatically members of the University and of the Leicester Graduates' Association. The Association looks after all aspects of the University's relations with its graduate members (the alumni). This includes publication of a magazine, annual, regional and overseas reunions and other events and services. For more information on the University of Leicester Graduates’ Association, contact Ms Kathryn Whitehurst on 0116 252 2195.


The Society was established almost half a century ago as a meeting place for ‘town and gown’. Its purpose is to hear distinguished speakers address topics drawn from a wide range of subjects, but always involving the boundary between academic study and practical everyday concerns. The annual programme consists of a Public Lecture and three other meetings. For more information on the Haldane Society, contact: Dr Emma Raven on 0116 252 2099.


Sir John has served for 38 years in the Police Service. He commenced his career in the Metropolitan Police where he was involved in a range of activities from leading successful murder enquiries and leadership of crime squads, commander of the busiest CID office in London to the hunt for a major spy (George Blake). During a second tour at Heathrow Airport as Detective Chief Superintendent he was responsible for the Operation which used covert micro optics in both aircraft holds and handling bays, which resulted in the arrest of half of British Airways handlers in one operation. Extensive administration experience was gained in a two year period as staff officer to the head of London CID. During his career he has been commended on 27 occasions for outstanding detective ability or courage.

In 1986 he was appointed Assistant Chief Constable of the Hampshire Constabulary with responsibility for personnel and training. Two and a half years later he was appointed Deputy Chief Constable in the Cambridgeshire Constabulary with responsibility for discipline, policy and strategy, personnel, finance and administration.

In September 1989 he was appointed to conduct the so-called ‘Stevens Enquiry’ into breaches of security by the Security Forces in Northern Ireland. It resulted in 43 convictions and over 800 years imprisonment for those convicted. The subsequent report contained over one hundred recommendations for the handling of security documents and information. All of those recommendations were accepted and have been implemented. The enquiry has been praised by the Secretary of State in Northern Ireland, the Police Authority in Northern Ireland, the Chief Constable of the Royal Ulster Constabulary and the Irish Government, amongst others.

In September 1991, he was appointed Chief Constable of Northumbria Police where he implemented a total restructuring of the Force and crime reduction policies, which resulted in an over 42% reduction in crime over five years, results never achieved before in British policing. He was Chairman of the ACPO Crime Prevention Committee, the Behavioural Science Committee and Advisor to the Forensic Science Service. In October 1996 he was appointed to conduct an enquiry into the National Criminal Intelligence Service involving the corrupt misuse of telephone tapping intelligence. As a result he made 98 recommendations, all of which have been accepted by the Director General and have been implemented. In September 1996 he was appointed one of Her Majesty’s Inspectors of Constabulary with responsibility for the North East, the National Crime Service, the National Criminal Intelligence Service and national responsibility for crime.

He was appointed Deputy Commissioner on 1 May 1998 and led the fight against corruption.

He holds an Honours Degree in Law, a Masters Degree in Philosophy, was visiting Professor at City University, New York and a member of the directing staff at the Police Staff College, with special responsibilities for legal topics and crime. He has a wide interest in sport as a spectator and a participant.

He took up his post as Commissioner on 1 February 2000. He declared his vision for London on appointment as Commissioner as being to make London the safest major city in the world. He was knighted the same year.

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Last updated: March 2002
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