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Last Updated: Wednesday, 15 November 2006, 16:03 GMT
Will latest crime proposals work?
Andy Tighe
By Andy Tighe
BBC home affairs correspondent

Tony Blair swept into power on a promise of "tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime".

A decade later, his final Queen's Speech is still dominated by the law and order agenda.

New Labour hails Asbos but wants new powers for 'instant justice'
But more than 60 bills have cascaded from the Home Office under four different home secretaries.

How much of a difference will these latest proposals make?

A key theme is anti-social behaviour.

New Labour regards Asbos (Anti-Social Behaviour Orders) that are enforced through the civil courts as among its greatest achievements.

And now there are to be more powers for the police to dispense instant justice, evicting "neighbours from hell" and closing down crack houses.

The government says the public expects fast, effective action to address local problems and punish offenders.

Its critics - from right and left - condemn what they call political gimmickry that has little impact on the real causes of anti-social behaviour.

There will be Violent Offender Orders - so-called "Super ASBOs" - to control the behaviour of dangerous criminals
Andy Tighe

But ministers have been increasingly frustrated in recent years about what they see as the inability of the criminal justice establishment to deliver the outcomes that voters want.

So now we hear about new powers for the police and probation service.

There will be Violent Offender Orders - so-called "Super ASBOs" - to control the behaviour of dangerous criminals after their prison sentence is over.

And "conditional cautions" so that offenders can be punished without being taken to court.

Controversially, the government wants to press ahead with no-jury trials for complex fraud cases.

And the home secretary has already said he wants to change the law so that courts do not quash convictions on technicalities when someone is "plainly guilty".

If gaps are identified, the government says it will not hesitate to fill them by passing whatever laws are necessary

Civil liberty and penal reform groups are sceptical.

They talk about an administration running out of ideas, about desperate measures against a background of overcrowded prisons and about shameless populism.

The Liberal Democrats complain about "too much rhetoric and too little competence".

And the Conservatives say the government would do better to improve enforcement of the laws already in place instead of bringing out any new ones.

John Reid claims that is what is happening already, with a record number of police officers and higher average prison sentences.

Credibility issue

And crucially, he highlights falling crime levels - down 35% since Labour came to power.

But there is a credibility issue.

Mr Reid runs a department that he himself categorised as "not fit for purpose."

Much of the public still remains to be convinced about the need for identity cards.

And proposals such as allowing the private sector to get involved in probation work will be fiercely resisted in some quarters.

Plans to shake up the troubled immigration service will be carefully scrutinised.

As expected, there was no terrorism bill announced, even though counter-terrorism lies at the heart of this government's legislative programme.

Instead, there is a review of current capabilities and resources.

Shifting tide

If gaps are identified, the government says it will not hesitate to fill them by passing whatever laws are necessary.

And these could give rise to considerable controversy.

In the last few days pressure has been mounting to extend the maximum period the police can hold terrorist suspects before charging them.

Last year, when a 90-day limit was proposed, the government was defeated.

And the tide has been shifting in recent months on the admissibility of intercept evidence such as phone taps in courts in England and Wales.

Other measures could include greater powers to freeze terrorists' assets and a review of the system of control orders under which foreign terrorist suspects are held without trial.




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