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Sunday, 10 November, 2002, 23:22 GMT
Backlash over Blair's war on crime
Crime scene
Lawyers and civil liberty groups fear political interference
Lawyers and civil liberty groups have condemned flagship government plans to fight crime and anti-social behaviour as "fundamentally flawed".

The criticism came after Prime Minister Tony Blair promised Wednesday's Queen's Speech would include radical reform of the criminal justice system.


The idea that reducing the rights of defendants benefits the victims of crime is fundamentally flawed

Statement from lawyers and civil liberties groups
In a joint statement, the Bar Council, Liberty, Legal Action Group and the Criminal Bar Association warned the "misguided" proposals could send more innocent people to jail.

But Home Secretary David Blunkett insisted change was needed, not just in the law but in public attitudes.

Mr Blair has said reform of court and police procedures will be at the heart of Wednesday's announcement of the government's legislative programme for the coming year.

He promised tougher sentences for violent and sex offenders as the criminal justice system is re-balanced in favour of victims of crime.

Political gain

But in their joint statement, lawyers and civil liberty groups warned: "The idea that reducing the rights of defendants benefits the victims of crime is fundamentally flawed.

"The independence of our criminal justice system must be safeguarded from 'spin' and the desire of politicians to make political capital."

Prime Minister Tony Blair
Mr Blair: Punishment does not fit the crime
They said the approach threatened to remove "vital checks and balances."

The described plans to remove juries in fraud trials as "unacceptable".

And they said allowing juries to hear details of previous convictions would have "a seriously prejudicial effect".

They warned the removal of the double jeopardy rule would make it difficult for defendants to get a fair trial because juries would almost certainly be aware the Court of Appeal had decided there was compelling new evidence.

They fear the temptation will be to pursue unpopular defendants to achieve a "popular result."

Other initiatives to be included in the government's legislation include supervision for short-sentence prisoners after release, on-the-spot fines for anti-social behaviour and penalties for parents who allow their children to truant.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Robert Lister
"Weight the criminal justice system in favour of the victim"
Mark Littlewood of Liberty
"They're going to actually unbalance the criminal justice system"

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10 Nov 02 | Politics
08 Nov 02 | Queen's Speech
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