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Last Updated: Monday, 25 October, 2004, 18:18 GMT 19:18 UK
Should juries know a defendant's history?
Home Secretary David Blunkett wants juries to know whether a defendant has previous convictions for similar offences before they reach a verdict.

The plan would cover child sex abuse and theft cases at first, but could be widened to include a range of other offences.

Parliament and the House of Lords must both approve what will be a fundamental change in British law.

We compare the views of two people with different opinions on the proposal.

ROD DALLEY (VICE-CHAIRMAN, POLICE FEDERATION OF ENGLAND AND WALES)

We welcome the announcement that juries will be entitled to know relevant previous convictions.

On too many occasions, my colleagues have watched the devastation and anger on the faces of victims and the astonishment of juries as a whole catalogue of relevant previous convictions are read out at the end of a trial as the defendant walks free.

Disclosing those relevant previous convictions marks an important step forward in an attempt to rebalance the scales of justice in favour of the victim, rather than criminals playing the system, which has too long been the case.

We have consistently supported the idea of allowing juries knowledge of a defendant's previous convictions where it is relevant.

However, in the interests of justice and to safeguard fairness and consistency, strict guidelines and protocols must now be established as to when and how previous convictions will be declared by judges and magistrates.


MARK LEECH (EDITOR OF PRISONS HANDBOOK AND FOUNDER OF EX-OFFENDERS' CHARITY UNLOCK )

These new rules are dangerous and ill-thought-through - it's just political posturing.

The simple fact is that just because someone has committed an offence in the past doesn't mean they have committed the current one. It could have a dangerous snowball effect and stop them building a new life.

What happens when a previous conviction is taken into account and leads to a conviction, only for the earlier conviction to be later quashed because it was unsafe - where does that leave the later conviction?

In such cases, even when someone is guilty of the crime, the later conviction could be quashed and they could walk free from court - that won't help the victim.

A jury should consider each offence on its individual evidential merits -moving the legal goal posts to make convictions easier is not to improve the standard of justice.





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