Page last updated at 18:44 GMT, Monday, 19 January 2009

Judge condemns 'torrent' of laws

Lord Phillips of Worth Matravers
Lord Phillips was Lord Chief Justice from 2005 to 2008

Lord Phillips, formerly the UK's most senior judge, has criticised the government for introducing a "ceaseless torrent of legislation."

He said the new laws had increased the burden on the courts system.

Some were not easy to justify, such as new measures on sexual offending which had led to an "astonishing number of different offences," he said.

A Ministry of Justice spokesman said: "The government's reforms have been necessary and widely welcomed."

Lord Phillips is the Senior Law Lord and is due to become the first president of the UK Supreme Court.

His comments were written in his previous capacity as Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales.

They are contained in the annual review of the Court of Appeal's criminal division.

He said: "The work of all who sit in the criminal jurisdiction... has been rendered infinitely more arduous than when I sat as a Recorder by a ceaseless torrent of legislation, adding complexity to substantive law and to the sentencing exercise.

"Some of this legislation is needed to deal with changing circumstances... other legislation is less easy to justify, including the subdivision of sexual offending into an astonishing number of different offences, some of which have yet to see the face of an indictment."

The Government has legislated in a number of important areas to update and modernise the law, to make it responsive to modern society
Ministry of Justice spokesman
The Liberal Democrats have calculated that the government has introduced more than 3,600 new criminal offences since Labour came to power in 1997.

Lord Phillips also criticised offenders who made repeated attempts to have their convictions overturned or sentences cut when they were "hopeless cases".

He said such cases "cause a waste of valuable time and energy" for judges and lawyers working at the Court of Appeal.

However, he praised the attorney general for referring fewer cases to the Court of Appeal on the grounds that the sentences were "unduly lenient", saying such appeals should be reserved for the "very rare" case where a judge appears to be "significantly out of line".

The Ministry of Justice spokesman said: "Creating a new offence is not always a first resort, for example awareness campaigns may also be used to change behaviour.

"The government has legislated in a number of important areas to update and modernise the law, to make it responsive to modern society. These include, for example, sex offences and the law on fraud."

He said the new laws had "considerably strengthened" the criminal justice system, and that it was up to Parliament to decide whether or not to adopt any new offence.

A number of old offences such as blasphemy had been removed, he added.

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