Law enforcement is set for the latest shake up with the creation of the new National Crime Agency (NCA) which will be operational by the end of this year.  The Crime and Courts Act 2013, which outlines the proposals for a new law enforcement agency, received royal assent on 25 April 2013.

The NCA will replace the Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA) and National Policing Improvement Agency, and will incorporate the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre.

The NCA will be centred on four commands:

  1. Organised crime (which will involve working with police forces and other agencies to fight organised crime);
  2. Border policing (which will coordinate UK border law enforcement agencies to achieve the same objectives);
  3. Economic crime (which will handle fraud and other economic or organised crimes); and
  4. Child exploitation and online protection (which will involve working with law enforcement agencies, children’s charities, industry and government to protect children from sexual abuse).

The main objectives of this new agency will be to detect and fight serious crime and organised crime; and collect, process and share information with other agencies.  The NCA will also inherit the functions set out in the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002, currently administered by SOCA, which will enable it to tackle the financial consequences of crime.

What does this change really mean?

The NCA, headed by the Director General, will have the authority to coordinate and organise a national response to organised crime.  The agency will be the first single agency of its kind to take charge of combating crime on a national scale, and direct responses from police forces and law enforcement agencies to national threats.  As part of the government’s ‘Local to Global’ strategy on organised crime,[1] the aim of the NCA is to create a central intelligence picture on a national scale and facilitate the interaction between law enforcement agencies to create a network from which to target crime.

Like SOCA, the NCA will collaborate with prosecuting bodies to bring criminal proceedings and will not have the ability to bring prosecutions under its own name.  The NCA will therefore need to have a strong mutual working relationship with prosecutors, police forces, security agencies and other intelligence bodies in order to meet its objectives of tackling crime at a national level.

One of main advantages of the new NCA will be its reciprocal duty to cooperate with local police forces and law enforcement agencies.  This legal underpinning is intended to encourage the mutual sharing of information and assistance between agencies by setting out clear expectations with regards to the roles each agency will have in the fight against serious crime and organised crime.  The Coordination and Tasking unit of the NCA will be assigned responsibility for liaising with other parts of the NCA and other agencies to make appropriate decisions regarding the utilisation of available resources for tackling specific threats.

The ‘four commands’ are designed to meet and tackle the main threats to the modern UK society, bringing these strands under the umbrella of one centralised crime-fighting unit. The NCA, while not a British FBI, does mark a further transition towards a more national policing system.

Is this the way to go?

Organised crime costs the UK between £20 billion and £40 billion a year and creating a single centralised body to tackle the most complicated and costly crimes to society will enable resources to be effectively deployed to prioritise threats.  Serious, organised and complex crimes often include networks of criminal activity with overlapping types of criminal offending.  Coordinated national collaboration on the detection, investigation and prosecution of crime, would be a step in the right direction.

Instead of a FBI-style national police force, the UK has chosen to improve cooperation and interaction between law enforcement agencies, which signals an intention to make better use of intelligence, and direct resources to those areas where they are most needed.

The NCA marks a new era for national law enforcement and does not appear to be just a rebranding exercise, but its success will depend on adequate funding, training and resources, and effective inter-agency collaboration.