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Sunday, 14 July, 2002, 06:23 GMT 07:23 UK
Anger at jury reform plans
Jury service selection
Leaked proposals include fewer trials by jury
Plans to radically overhaul the criminal justice system have provoked a storm of protest from lawyers and civil rights campaigners.

A leaked draft of a government White Paper revealed proposals to scrap the right of thousands of defendants to trial by jury and to abolish the double jeopardy rule - whereby suspects cannot be tried twice for the same serious offence.

The Home Office insists the information is from an old draft of the White Paper, due to be published on Wednesday, and should not be taken seriously.

The public trusts the jury system, the government needs to show it trusts the public

Bar Council

But Labour peer and lawyer Helena Kennedy QC described the proposals as a "wholesale assault on civil liberties".

And prominent QC Allan Levy said he "felt very unhappy" about cutting down on jury trial.

"It's a very old institution and in modern language, it is a human right of people," he added.

Campaign group Liberty accused the government of "playing fast and loose" with the basic protections for fairness.

Main points

The Independent newspaper said it had seen details of the White Paper.

The main proposals are:

  • Judges to be allowed to sit alone to hear particularly complex cases or ones which could expose jurors to intimidation

  • Scrapping of the double jeopardy rule for "grave" offences

  • Clampdown on middle class professionals avoiding jury service because of work commitments

  • Magistrates to have sentencing powers doubled to cut costs in crown courts

  • New police powers to impose bail conditions, including electronic tagging of suspects

  • Action against lawyers who use delaying tactics to win cases

    The government will not comment on the detail, but the Home Office Minister, John Denham, has defended the changes in principle.

    "We need to reform the system right from the beginning to the end, from the original police investigation through to the court process itself," he said.

    "Next week in the Criminal Justice White Paper we'll be looking at every part of that process and showing how it can be improved to make sure that witnesses and victims of crime feel confident in the system and that they will get a fair and just outcome."

    The plan to get tougher on people who avoid jury service was widely welcomed.

    But Liberal Democrat Shadow Home Secretary Simon Hughes said the other proposals could cut the public's confidence in the legal system.

    He said the scrapping of the double jeopardy rule would have a difficult time getting through Parliament.

    'Trust eroded'

    The Bar Council said in a statement: "Ministers seem to be obsessed with the idea of restricting the one thing in which the public has confidence, trial by jury."

    Janet Paraskeva, chief executive of the Law Council, said that while lawyers would welcome some of the proposals, any plans to restrict jury trials should be "viewed with extreme caution".

    Scene from magistrates court
    Magistrates look set to get more powers
    Meanwhile, Sir David Ramsbotham, former chief inspector of prisons, warned there would be a significant problem if the proposals for change led to further expansion of the prison population.

    "Already the Prison Service have had to ask the police to hold them (prisoners), which they haven't done for a number of years."

    Others, including the Magistrates' Association, chose not to comment because the proposals were leaked.

    Home Secretary David Blunkett has ordered a "full-scale inquiry" into the leak to the newspaper in what is being considered a "serious" breach of security.

    The BBC's Daniel Boettcher
    "Changes will add to prison over-crowding"
    Labour MP Vera Baird QC
    "I'm especially worried the police could persuade the judge that the jury is in fear of intimidation"

    Talking PointTALKING POINT
    What do you think of the UK Government's plans to overhaul the legal systemLegal reforms
    Is an overhaul of the court system needed?

    Key stories




    See also:

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