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Michael Howard, Former Home Secretary
Please note "BBC Breakfast with Frost" must be credited if any part of this transcript is used.

DAVID FROST:

Promises to do more for the victims of crime were at the heart of speeches at Labour's Spring Conference in Glasgow yesterday. The Home Secretary Jack Straw promised to bring victims in from the cold with an increase in payments and better care for people who are abused, injured or raped.

[FILM CLIP]

DAVID FROST:

Well we're now joined by the former Home Secretary, Michael Howard and let's, let's begin if we may by one verdict that came up, Friday's court ruling over the Bulger case and the release, the allegedly very imminent release of Robert Thompson and John Venables which would be more like eight years than the 15 years which you felt was the right length of time, you must be very disappointed, maybe alarmed by that verdict?

MICHAEL HOWARD:

Deeply disappointed, this was, people tend to forget sometimes with the years that pass, this was a crime described by the trial judge as an unparalleled act of barbarity, unparalleled act of barbarity and the killers actually dragged this two-year-old toddler for miles doing unspeakable acts of violence to him on the way, before they eventually killed him and I feel deeply for James Bulger's parents and I just do not think that this sentence begins to match the appalling nature of that offence. Of course they were young when they committed it and that's an important thing to be taken into account, but I don't think it's enough.

DAVID FROST:

And you don't think it's enough because of the crime or because of the feeling in society, because you've got aż

MICHAEL HOWARD:

The feeling in society was because of the crime, they're not separate things, the reason why this particular crime touched the nerve of the nation was because of its unparalleled barbarity, because it was so dreadful, that's why everyone was so deeply upset about it. Of course if it had been committed by adults then I took the view that they would have to spend at least 25 years, perhaps more, in custody and so obviously you had to make an allowance for the age of those who committed the crime. But if you make that kind of extrapolation from the period of seven years eight months which the Lord Chief Justice thought was appropriate, what does that mean in the case of adults if they'd committed a crime of this kind, that they should stay in custody for 12 or 14 years, is that really enough for a crime of this degree of evil?

DAVID FROST:

This, this degree of evil, do you still, do you still feel that 15 years was an appropriate figure?

MICHAEL HOWARD:

Yes I do, yes I do, I think it was absolutely the appropriate figure.

DAVID FROST:

And do you, and do you think that it was right that the decision was made by judges or do you think it should have been made by the Home Secretary?

MICHAEL HOWARD:

It should have been made by the Home Secretary and the European Court of Human Rights who decided it should have been made by a judge had decided just a year earlier that in the case of adult murderers it was alright for the Home Secretary to make the decision. Now I've never, no one has ever been able to explain to me why if it's alright for the Home Secretary to make that decision in the case of adult murderers, it's not alright for him to make it in the case of younger murderers and this is part of a great pattern in which decisions are being taken under this government, out of the hands of ministers and members of Parliament who are elected, who are accountable and who can be dismissed and given instead to judges, some of them given to Europe and you're going to talk about that later, some of them given to judges and in each case given to people who are un-elected, who are unaccountable and who cannot be dismissed and this is, this is actually affecting the ability of people to control the future of our country.

DAVID FROST:

So that in this case, Lord Justice Wolf was really, he was wrong about seven years eight months you feel, and in fact wrong to take it on in these terms?

MICHAEL HOWARD:

Well, well he took it on because of the decision of the European Court of, of Human Rights, but the European Court of Human Rights administers a convention which was born up after the war to prevent a resurgence Nazism and to try and deal with some of the awful acts of totalitarian governments on the other side of the Iron Curtain. The people who drew up the European Convention, many of whom were English Conservatives would, would be turning in their graves to think that that convention was being used to decide whether in this country Parliament was entitled to say that decisions of this kind should be made by an accountable Home Secretary rather than by an unaccountable judge.

DAVID FROST:

And it's rather ironic that Jack Straw was talking yesterday about basically victims, victims families coming in from the cold and notifying victim's families when the killer or whatever was released and so on, which is absolutely contrary to what's happened in this case?

MICHAEL HOWARD:

Absolutely contrary to what's happened in this case, a deep irony in those two things and of course I'm afraid when, when Jack Straw made many of his announcements yesterday he hadn't listened to what John Prescott was saying about having less spin and more substance because many of the things that he was making such a song and dance about yesterday were actually things that I announced and indeed introduced four years ago when I was Home Secretary.

DAVID FROST:

So the government doesn't only repeat it's own pronouncements it repeats yours on occasion.

MICHAEL HOWARD:

On occasion it does.

DAVID FROST:

But in terms of the anonymity for life that Robert Thompson and John Venables will have, thanks again to his ruling, when Lord Wakeham was here a couple of weeks ago talking about the Press Complaints Commission he found that a very dangerous, he could understand why it was done but a very dangerous precedent?

MICHAEL HOWARD:

I actually agree with that ruling, I agree with John Wakeham too, it is dangerous, it has to be, its implications have to be considered very carefully and I don't think it should be followed too often, but in that particular case I can see why that decision was reached and actually I support that decision.

DAVID FROST:

And as a QC the story that Michael Grade the front page of the Sunday Times today, about Lord Irving having sent letters allegedly, as we say, to members of the legal profession inviting them to a fund-raising dinner on Labour Party notepaper, did that surprise you?

MICHAEL HOWARD:

It astonished me and appalled me, I think this is outrageous and if this story is true Lord Irving should resign, there can't be any question about it, that if, if anyone had suggested to Lord Hailsham or Lord MacKay, that they should write a letter of this kind, well I wouldn't have liked to be at the receiving end of the reply they'd have got. This is the man who appoints QCs, who appoints judges and writes a letter to the very people who are candidates for those positions saying come to this dinner, you don't need to pay anything but you're expected to contribute at least £200 to the Labour Party and his special advisor justifies it by saying the Lord Chancellor doesn't know who gave or how much. But the Lord Chancellor was at the dinner and unless he suffered from temporary blindness he would be able to see who was there and he would know that they were there because they were prepared to contribute at least £200 to the Labour Party. And the real danger is that this is happening so often under this government that people are beginning to take it as the norm and shrug their shoulders and say 'well there you go'. There's another story in the papers this morning about one of John Prescott's advisors being involved in a bid for the Dome, an acute conflict of interest, but this, if this story is true I have absolutely no doubt it is a fundamental corruption of the office of Lord Chancellor and the Lord Chancellor should resign.

DAVID FROST:

Michael, thank you for much for being with us this morning.

MICHAEL HOWARD:

Thank you very much David.

DAVID FROST:

Michael Howard.

END

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