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"The government wants to be seen to be tough on law and order"
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Ann Widdecombe, Shadow Home Secretary
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Monday, 26 February, 2001, 22:30 GMT
Crime crackdown comes under fire
Prison interior
Prisoners will be offered a new rehabilitation scheme
Government plans to reform the justice system have come under attack from inside and outside the House of Commons.

Conservative Party criticism of the government's 10-year criminal justice plan have been echoed by the police and legal profession.

Crime is still too high here

Jack Straw
The plan was launched by Prime Minister Tony Blair and Home Secretary Jack Straw on Monday with a promise that it would cut crime.

The main aim of the plan is cut down on the number of crimes being carried out by persistent offenders - estimated to be a hardcore of 100,000 people.

This would be achieved by rehabilitating more prisoners so that they will not offend again and coming down hard on those who break the law when they are released.

Controversial proposals

However, the plan also includes controversial proposals to reform the justice process.

Under the 700m plan, judges will be allowed to take greater account of persistent offenders' records when passing sentence.

Jurors may be given details of previous convictions and prosecution lawyers will be offered extra training to enable them to work in specialist drugs courts.

The plan also includes proposals to give security guards similar powers to police constables and plans to allow other members of the community, such as park keepers, to play a greater role in crime prevention.

A "superbobby" bonus is also expected for senior police who stay on the beat rather than move to desk jobs.

Unveiling his policy in the Commons, Mr Straw said the 10-year criminal justice plan would provide more help in rehabilitating prisoners and ensure tougher sentences for those who re-offended.

Tony Blair outside Pentonville Prison
Tony Blair launched the plan at Pentonville Prison
Mr Straw told MPs: "We want the criminal justice system to focus on two clear outcomes - the delivery of justice and the reduction in crime.

"Crime is still too high here, not just in comparison with the levels of 20 years ago, but also in comparison with other countries."

Tory criticism

But Conservative leader William Hague denounced the crime plan.

He said that as a result of Labour policies, Britain was "on the brink of losing the war against crime".

Shadow home secretary Ann Widdecombe added: "There are hardly any firm detailed proposals on courts or sentences."

She said the plan was "a desperate attempt" by the government to cover up its failure to tackle crime.

Liberal Democrat spokesman Simon Hughes said the past four years of Labour had been "paved with broken promises" on crime.

"The Labour Party has a long way to go before it has proved that it can tackle crime and it can tackle the causes of crime."

Policeman on the beat
Labour is planning a 'superbobby' scheme
There was criticism, too, from Michael Napier, president of the Law Society, who condemned plans to disclose the criminal records of defendants.

"Fair trials would be put in grave jeopardy if juries were told about a defendant's previous convictions," he said.

'Deeply worried'

Proposals to expand the role of private guards were criticised by Fred Broughton, chairman of the Police Federation.

He said officers were "deeply worried" by the idea of security guards patrolling the streets.

"The public deserve better policing, not more confusion," he said.

The plan was launched on Monday morning when Tony Blair became the first serving prime minister to visit a British jail - touring Pentonville Prison in London.

He described the plans as "root and branch changes in the way our system of fighting crime works".

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See also:

26 Feb 01 | UK Politics
10-year crime plan: At a glance
22 Feb 01 | UK Politics
Blair to 'go to prison'
31 Jan 01 | UK Politics
New crime plan a 'stunt' say Tories
16 Jan 01 | UK Politics
Sharp rise in violent crime
16 Jan 01 | UK Politics
Straw's uphill battle
10 Jan 01 | UK Politics
Public losing confidence in police
25 Feb 01 | UK Politics
'Jobs help for criminals' plan
26 Feb 01 | UK Politics
Straw's unfinished business
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