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Friday, 8 March, 2002, 15:52 GMT
Top lawyer warns of 'police state'
Sir John Stevens
Sir John Stevens attacked the attitude of lawyers
A senior lawyer has described recent police attacks on the state of the justice system as extreme and warned against becoming a "police state".

Chairman of the Bar Council, David Bean QC, made the comments in response to a speech earlier this week by Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir John Stevens.

Sir John said the courts were contributing to a rise in violent crime and robberies by allowing guilty people to walk free through lawyers' exploitation of the system.

None of us want a police state, where the knee-jerk response to crime is to 'round up the usual suspects'

David Bean QC
Bar council chairman
The legal profession has hit back but Sir John's comments have received a warmer response from the government.

Home Office Minister John Denham admitted to the Commons on Friday that "end-to-end reform" of the criminal justice system was needed.

Mr Bean - whose organisation represents barristers - insisted comments from the police in recent days have been extreme and pleaded for more balance in the debate.

"None of us want a police state, where the knee-jerk response to crime is to 'round up the usual suspects' as in the film Casablanca.

Simple cases

"We've seen too many miscarriages of justice for that.

"But if we did unbalance the scales of justice we would, before long, be on the slippery slope to a police state."

It means reforms to sentences and court procedures

John Denham
Home Office Minister
"We'd like to see changes. Simple cases need to be brought to trial more quickly, so there's less need for bail.

Mr Bean later told the BBC: "They are painting a picture of a criminal justice system where defence lawyers are causing all the difficulties.

"Really it's administration mainly on the police side that is causing the difficulties."

Sir John had accused lawyers and judges of treating witnesses and victims with contempt.

But opening a debate on policing in England and Wales in the House of Commons, Mr Denham said the government wanted to tackle the "sense of invulnerability" among young offenders.

Muggers' dossier

"It means reforms to sentences and court procedures. It means speeding up parts of the system. It means reforms to the police service."

And Sir John is preparing a dossier on muggers let off lightly by the justice system, according to newspaper reports.

It will highlight 20 of the worst cases of muggers being released back onto London's streets to reoffend, often because they are juveniles for whom no secure accommodation is available.

A spokeswoman for Scotland Yard told BBC News Online: "We are researching progression of offenders through the justice system as part of our Safer Streets initiative.

"It is too early to release the findings."

The BBC's Daniel Sandford
"Lawyers warn there is a risk of unbalancing the scales of justice"
David Bean QC
"Unbalancing the scales of justice would put us on the slippery slope to a police state"

Rough justice
Does the legal system fail the victims of crime?
See also:

06 Mar 02 | England
The straight-talking police chief
17 Feb 02 | UK Politics
Inner city crime rates 'unacceptable'
14 Feb 02 | UK Politics
Blunkett issues Met crime warning
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