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Thursday, 21 June, 2001, 08:39 GMT 09:39 UK
Fears over justice reforms

Government proposals to abolish the double jeopardy rule in murder cases have been criticised as undermining basic human rights.

Campaign groups fear the reform could have damaging consequences for those who are eventually found to be innocent.

John Wadham from the civil rights group Liberty, said: "Of course if guilty people have to go through two trials then perhaps nobody cares.

"We are concerned about innocent people who are prosecuted.

"They're being remanded in custody in serious cases.

"They have to face a trial to prove their innocence and then maybe months or years later they have to go through that process all over again."

Tougher sentences

The proposed measure forms part of the government's reform of the criminal justice system, outlined in the Queen's Speech.

Other changes put forward include tougher sentences for persistent offenders, the setting up of an independent police complaints procedure and more power to seize the assets of suspected drug dealers and other criminals.

But some believe other judicial reforms have been neglected, calling for the powers invested in magistrates to impose prison sentences, to be withdrawn, especially in the case of young offenders.

We need to take away from the magistrates, the right to sentence people to prison in the first place

Frances Crook, Howard League

Frances Crook, director of the Howard League for Penal Reform, believes the government shake-up should go further.

She said: "We need to take away from the magistrates, the right to sentence people to prison in the first place.

"For example, dealing with young people, who are ending up in prison, which is a very damaging environment for them.

"They could be dealt with in much more effective other ways.

"So there are a number of proposals which we think a reforming government with a big majority could have introduced."

Police reform

Government plans to change police working practices have also come under fire.

The Police Federation has welcomed the crime fighting proposals, but suggestions that more internal reforms will be introduced have been met with a cooler response.

Police officer
Police: more internal reforms unwelcome
The Federation's Fred Broughton said: "We have gone through a whole process of change, particularly in relation to sickness and ill health and pensions.

"We have been absorbing change in these areas for the last five or six years."

The police may not be the only group of public service employees who have difficulty accepting further change to their working practices.

The government has made it clear those working in health and education are also being targeted.

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See also:

19 Jun 01 | UK Politics
The Queen's Speech
19 Jun 01 | UK Politics
Queen's Speech to focus on delivery
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