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EDITIONS
Sunday, 10 November, 2002, 17:17 GMT
Blair promises war on crime
Street crime
Sentences do not fit the crime, says the prime minister
Radical reform of the criminal justice system has been promised by Prime Minister Tony Blair to tackle the public's fear of crime.

Successive governments of the Left and Right have failed to tackle this concern, he said in a newspaper article ahead of the Queen's Speech.

Changes to court and police procedures will be at the heart of Wednesday's announcement of the government's legislative programme for the coming year, Mr Blair wrote in the Observer.

Legislative initiatives
Changes to double jeopardy law
Tougher sentences for sexual and violent offenders
On-the-spot fines for anti-social behaviour
Penalties for parents who allow their children to truant

Meanwhile, Home Secretary David Blunkett has said "low level thuggery" will not be tolerated - and he confirmed there would be changes to date rape laws.

Mr Blair said the Queen's Speech, delivered at the state opening of Parliament, would outline how the criminal justice system will be re-balanced in favour of victims of crime.

"The reality is that people do not feel secure and they know the system is not yet working as it should," he wrote.

Tougher sentences

He admitted punishments often did not match the crime while promising tougher sentences for violent and sex offenders.

The UK had a "19th Century criminal justice system trying to solve 21st Century crimes", he said.

Mr Blair said the government was determined to tackle low-level anti-social behaviour such as vandalism.
Prime Minister Tony Blair
Mr Blair: Concern about crime high on people's agenda

On-the-spot fines, already used for drunken behaviour, are expected to be extended to fly-tipping, vandalism and graffiti.

He promised to restore social cohesion to fragmented communities, saying the theme of "rights and responsibilities" would be central to the Queen's Speech.

Police and prosecutors did not work effectively enough together and there was too little focus on the hardcore of offenders who committed more than half of all crime, he continued.

But a series of initiatives, to be unveiled in next week's speech, will include more use of hearsay evidence and scrapping the double jeopardy law for murder and other serious offences thereby allowing someone to be tried for a second time.

Focusing now on crime was not following a right-wing agenda but was "the issue" in many traditional Labour areas, said Mr Blair.

'Seeing a difference'

The package will mean another heavy legislative programme for Mr Blunkett, who said a "cultural change" was needed towards more respect in society.

"You start with anti-social behaviour because that is where people get the idea they can get away with anything, that they can make other people's lives a misery," said Mr Blunkett.

Mr Blunkett confirmed reports that current laws on date rape would be addressed as a fundamental part of revising rape laws generally.

More rapists needed to be convicted, so people felt more confident about coming forward with their claims.

But there also needed to be protection for innocent people against false accusations, he told BBC One's Breakfast With Frost.

It has been reported that men accused of rape could have to prove they tried to ensure they got their partner's consent before sex under new proposals.

But Mr Blunkett said: "There is not going to be any paper and pen by the bed stuff in terms of signing up before you make love to someone because that is the kind of ridicule that we need to avoid."

Criticism

The reform of the justice system came under fire on Sunday in a joint statement from civil rights campaigners and lawyers.

A joint statement from Liberty, the Legal Action Group, the Criminal Bar Association and the Bar Council criticised some of the key measures.

"The idea that reducing the rights of defendants benefits the victims of crime in fundamentally flawed," said the statement.

"The independence of our criminal justice system must be safeguarded from 'spin' and the desire of politicians to make political capital."

Conservative shadow home secretary Oliver Letwin said potential criminals had a 97.5% chance of not being convicted, said Mr Letwin.

Nor was there a "serious programme" to lift young people out of crime.

He welcomed much of the expected justice reforms but said they would be an "empty gesture" without police on the streets and rehabilitation schemes.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Richard Lister
"Deep concern about the plans to make such fundamental changes to the legal process"

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See also:

08 Nov 02 | Queen's Speech
23 Oct 02 | Politics
29 Oct 02 | Entertainment
10 May 02 | Politics
06 Nov 02 | Politics
06 Nov 02 | Politics
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