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Monday, 22 July, 2002, 08:38 GMT 09:38 UK
Are the UK justice reforms needed?
Home Secretary David Blunkett has revealed plans for an "end-to-end" revamp of the criminal justice system.
The plans include proposals to scrap the ancient double jeopardy rule. Re-trials will be allowed for serious offences such as murder and rape when "compelling" new evidence such as DNA comes to light, Mr Blunkett told MPs.
The change will be retrospective, meaning suspects who have already been acquitted could be ordered back into court.
A defendant's right to trial by jury will remain, even for relatively minor offences.
The Conservatives and Liberal Democrats welcomed the proposals, although both parties said there were elements which were "fraught with danger".
Do you think the reforms to the justice system are necessary? Do they go far enough? Will they improve the legal system in the UK?
This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
People seem to be forgetting that the burden of proof being on the prosecution is a good thing and the only morally right way. How long before we have "guilty until proven innocent"? Removing the right to trial by jury is a step in this direction - just because it is at present being proposed for only certain cases makes no difference.
Sadly, the law is merely a poor approximation to justice. Lawyers make money from people's misery. Remember Aesop's fables re the two animals fighting over a piece of food. I would think that the monkey is a good model for lawyers.
NO - the reforms should not be allowed. What is the government on about? WHY are they trying to erode our human rights? I am shocked and concerned about this negative and destructive attitude.
Removal of double jeopardy will basically result in the "usual suspects" now being repeatedly prosecuted until the "right" verdict is returned.
Brian, UK, why is trial by jury a fundamental human right? We don't have it here in Holland and nobody is up in arms over this. The panel of judges reaches the verdict and decides the punishment.
Personally, I would much rather receive a verdict from people trained to weigh evidence professionally and remain impartial, than from twelve potentially ignorant, uneducated people, whose analytical capacities are entirely unknown.
Oh yes, give me the professional over the rank amateur anytime!
Reform the system now! The innocent need to feel that the law is on their side. At the moment they do not. Lawyers are making money hand over fist, the police don't have the resources at their disposal and criminals are no longer mentally connecting crime with punishment. While these trends persist the problem will not go away. The do-gooders need to be silenced and firm pragmatism needs to be the key behind the reforms.
Is it a worse thing to punish the innocent or let the guilty go free?
R Callister, UK
Crime is up, but detection rates are down. Ok fair enough, but why are our prisons overcrowded? If our right to select a trial by jury is abolished what is stopping corruption in our courts? It seems to me that the Labour Government is confusing being tough on crime, with tough on justice!
I hear plenty of voices defending jury trials, but when it comes to doing jury service, many people do whatever they can to avoid it. Part of the reason is the inadequate recompense, the long waits, abrupt adjournments and inconvenient rescheduling. Anyone who has seen or been part of the criminal process knows it needs a thorough overhaul - except, it seems, the lawyers and criminals who have an obvious interest in the arcane procedures, delays and technical obstacles to arriving at a proper verdict. Let's end the knee-jerk resistance to reform.
The people of Britain are slowly but surely losing their rights and freedoms that we cherish so deeply. Glad we have the Bill of Rights to protect us from such encroachments.
To Howard US: a legal system that on one hand allows people compensation because they spilt hot coffee on themselves and on the other imposes the death penalty on its citizens is hardly the shining example of the perfect judicial system. Ours may be in need of an overhaul but give me a balanced one rule for all system anytime.
Crime is up and the number of convictions are down. Why? Because the court system is not working? No! Because the police system is not working. When criminals get away with a crime it is because the police did not do their job properly in the first place.
Far too many innocent people have been convicted under the present system as it is. I was brought up to believe that it is better for 100 guilty people to go free than for one innocent person to be convicted. Clearly the Blair government believes a higher conviction rate of the guilty is worth the cost in more innocent lives being wrecked. The new proposals are not those of a democracy or even of the rule of law - they together with other draconian laws already passed are better suited to Mugabe's Zimbabwe than to a country that was once the champion of freedom.
All this talk about the police and the CPS having to do a better job is sheer nonsense. Evidence is needed to convict the criminals in the UK. Without that then there is no way a prosecution will be made.
As a serving Police Officer with 22 years service (including 10 in the Fraud Squad) I can say that these reforms are long overdue. It would appear at first glance that David Blunkett might have got something right. He must stand firm against the vested interest outcries of solicitors and barristers who have used and abused the judicial system for far too long. The interests of victims and witnesses should be to the fore. Having spent many man hours/weeks counselling and reassuring victims and witnesses whose interests are virtually ignored by lawyers and judges at trials I hope that the reforms succeed.
Simon Devine, England
These reforms are NOT about making it fairer for victims. It is yet another Labour smokescreen. It is about bringing our legal system more into line with the EU and trying to distract the public from the real problem, i.e. that the police, the Crown Prosecution Service appear to be incapable of delivering results. The police need to solve more crimes, the CPS needs to become competent and persistent criminals need to be kept off the streets for longer.
The government has lost control of crime, so it now seeks to rig the justice system against defendants. If somebody wishes to be tried by their peers for stealing a tin of soup, then yes, that is their right. Money should be no object in pursuit of justice.
What next? Defendants will be presumed guilty until proven innocent? Oh, and what about stripping defendants of legal representation? After all, it's the fault of those pesky defence lawyers, isn't it?
If the UK Government is bent on quick justice to speed up the imprisonment of criminals, it should also put in place a scheme to ensure fast-track appeals for the many miscarriages of justice that will ensue. If it is prepared to retry criminals when new and compelling evidence comes to light it should also be prepared to quickly admit its own mistakes and to immediately free those wrongly put behind bars.
It seems to me that we are intent on trashing our Liberties for an illusion of security, but all of us - not just the guilty ones - will have to pay the price.
Yes so much of the country's infrastructure needs updating. The people would benefit but the establishment won't let go of the reins of power, so it will not happen. This is why we have a class ridden society with rules appropriate to a bygone past rather than addressing the problems of the present & the future. Modernise or die
In that there is no justice for the victims or the defendants who are considered innocent until proven otherwise. If we truly want justice then the CPS needs to get its act together and do its job properly. All too often victims fail to get justice because of failings in the CPS. That is what you need to correct, not some knee jerk reaction to the killing of Stephen Lawrence or to get justice on the cheap.
Jury trials are part of our culture and make us what we are. But why shouldn't we change and improve something if it does not work. Allowing someone the luxury of a jury trial costing thousands of pounds for stealing a can of soup is insane. The only people who gain from the present system of justice are Helena Kennedy QC and her friends.
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