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Wednesday, 20 June, 2001, 13:51 GMT 14:51 UK
End to 'double jeopardy' planned
Crime graphic
Action against crime is at the heart of the speech
Ending the "double jeopardy" rule which prevents murder suspects from being being tried twice for the same crime was one of a raft of controversial anti-crime measures in the Queen's Speech.

Changes to sentencing rules, more powers for the police and laws to allow criminal assets to be confiscated more easily were also included in the plans, unveiled on Wednesday.

Most of the measures have been widely trailed but are still likely to cause controversy, especially among civil rights activists who believe the changes threaten essential liberties.

David Blunkett, who replaced Jack Straw as Home Secretary in the recent government reshuffle, will steer the plans through parliament.

Double jeopardy

The changes in the double jeopardy rules were recommended by the Macpherson Report into the murder of teenager Stephen Lawrence.

Families of murder victims have broadly welcomed plans to allow someone acquitted of murder to be retried where there is compelling new evidence of guilt.

John Wadham
Wadham: Plans put innocent at risk
But they want the bill to be made retrospective - a demand on which the Home Office has refused to comment.

John Wadham, director of civil rights group Liberty, is opposed to the plans, and especially to any retrospective law.

"We increase the chances of innocent people being convicted if we remove double jeopardy," he said.

Mr Wadham argued it could not be right to put people to repeat the ordeal of time in prison on remand and trial.

And Michael Napier, president of the Law Society, said the chances of a fair second trial would be "seriously jeopardised" if a jury knew a retrial had been ordered because of substantial new evidence.

Sex offenders

Protecting children against sex offenders was another emotive subject confronted in the Queen's Speech.

The proposed Criminal Justice Bill would tighten up the registration requirements for sex offenders, says the government.

And it would mean sex offenders convicted abroad would also have to go on the sex offender registers.

The plans unveiled on Wednesday stop short of allowing public access to those registers - although Mr Blunkett has said he will examine that possibility.

Another strand of the Criminal Justice Bill will be reforming the laws against corruption.

Confiscating crime barons

New action against money laundering too was a pledge included in the speech, with measures to make it easier to recover the proceeds of crime and drugs.

As this confiscation would be done through the civil courts by the new Criminal Assets Recovery Agency, a suspected criminal would not need to be convicted of a crime for assets to be seized.

Civil rights groups are already concerned that this threatens the presumption that someone is innocent until proven guilty.

Court reforms

The right of a defendant to choose jury trial is another worry of civil liberties organisations and may form part of the new Criminal Courts (Reform) Bill outlined in the speech.
David Blunkett
Blunkett: Will push legislation through the Commons

The shape of that bill will depend on what comes of Lord Justice Auld's report on the current courts system - now nearing completion.

His progress reports suggest the division between crown and magistrates courts could end.

Instead lay and professional judges could sit together in new, unified courts as part of the effort to build a "fair and swift" justice system.

Civil liberties groups are concerned too by the mention of reform of sentencing in the speech.

Former Home Secretary Jack Straw has said he wanted a defendant's previous convictions to be revealed to jurors in some circumstances.

Police modernisation

As well as focusing on the courts, government's modernisation drive targets the police, which will be given "the powers they need" to fight crime under the new Police Bill.

It proposes a new police complaints system and also aims to promote co-operation between different police forces.

The Queen also said in her speech that the current laws banning suspected football hooligans from matches or from travelling to overseas fixtures would be extended.

The BBC's Robert Hall
talks to the people of Tamworth about the new proposals for law and order
Chair of Police Fed for Eng and Wales Fred Broughton
"There are so many good things in it in relation to criminal justice"

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See also:

05 Mar 01 | UK Politics
29 Sep 00 | UK Politics
10 Jun 01 | Vote2001
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