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EDITIONS
Wednesday, 17 July, 2002, 19:50 GMT 20:50 UK
Sweeping justice reforms unveiled
Old Bailey scales of justice
The right to trial by jury will remain
Home Secretary David Blunkett has revealed his plans for an "end-to-end" revamp of the criminal justice system, including proposals to scrap the ancient double jeopardy rule.

Reforms include:
Double jeopardy scrapped
Previous convictions revealed
Magistrates' powers increased
Violent offenders jailed indefinitely
Justice system speeded up
Judges to sit alone in serious fraud cases
Re-trials will be allowed for serious offences such as murder, rape and armed robbery when "compelling" new evidence such as DNA comes to light, Mr Blunkett told MPs.

The change - which affects England and Wales - will be retrospective, so suspects who have already been acquitted could find themselves back in the dock - raising the prospect of re-trials over cases such as the murders of Stephen Lawrence and Damilola Taylor.

The proposals were broadly welcomed by the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats.

No change to jury trial

But the two parties also said there were elements which were "fraught with danger" - while pressure group Liberty said the government was "blaming fair trial protections for crime rates".

Under the proposals - which are set out in a White Paper - a defendant's right to trial by jury will remain even for relatively minor offences, contrary to press reports earlier this week.

David Blunkett
Blunkett: Not enough cash for plans
But magistrates and youth courts will be able to hear more serious cases, the home secretary confirmed.

There will also be more incentive for defendants to plead guilty at an early stage, formalising the process of "plea bargaining" which already takes place in many courts.

Judges will only be allowed to sit without a jury in serious fraud cases or where there is a risk of jurors being intimidated.

'Speeding up' process

Jurors will also be allowed to hear defendants' previous convictions and "hearsay" evidence in some cases.


The people of this country deserve a criminal justice system which works in the interest of justice and puts the victim first

David Blunkett
Dangerous or violent offenders will be kept in prison indefinitely, even if they have not been sentenced to life, the White Paper adds.

Magistrates' sentencing powers will be increased from 6 months to 12 months and legislation will eventually be passed to increase them to 18 months.

There will also be measures to speed up the justice system and cut down on the number of aborted trials.

The home secretary said he wanted to "rebalance the criminal justice system in favour of the victim".

Unveiling his plans, Mr Blunkett told MPs: "The people of this country deserve a criminal justice system which works in the interest of justice and puts the victim first."

Tory backing

Outlining his proposals on double jeopardy, he said: "We will be confining this to murder and serious, violent and sexual offences such as rape where DNA evidence would be very material to the case."

The director of public prosecutions will have to personally give the go-ahead for police to re-investigate the suspect.

Mr Blunkett also admitted he did not have enough money to introduce all his plans.


The cost here is that crime levels will go untouched, while British justice will be seriously damaged

John Wadham
Liberty
The home secretary is said to be frustrated with Chancellor Gordon Brown's spending review, in which the home office came off badly compared with other departments.

Shadow home secretary Oliver Letwin backed the majority of Mr Blunkett's proposals.

But he warned that the fairness of British justice should be protected.

In particular, he would be studying Mr Blunkett's proposals on double jeopardy and previous convictions in detail.

Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Simon Hughes also broadly welcomed the home secretary's proposals.

More efficient

The Bar Council said there was "a lot that is good" in the White Paper, but it opposed a number of its plans.

Chairman David Bean QC said all serious cases should have juries and the abolition of juries in complex fraud cases was wrong.

The Police Federation of England and Wales largely welcomed the changes to deliver fairer and more efficient trials.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Margaret Gilmore reports
"Our criminal justice system is way overstretched"
Home Secretary David Blunkett
"I want to strike the right balance between justice for victims and the rights of those on trial"
Shadow Home Secretary Oliver Letwin
"I think it is extremely important we have balanced debate about this"

Talking PointFORUM
Justice reforms
A criminal justice expert answered your questions
Find out more about criminal justice reforms proposed for England and Wales

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See also:

17 Jul 02 | Politics
17 Jul 02 | Politics
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