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Thursday, 14 November, 2002, 00:23 GMT
Blair promises 'victim's justice'
Tony Blair
Blair wants action on anti-social behaviour
Tony Blair has set out controversial plans for wholesale reform of the criminal justice system, while branding the Conservatives "out of touch and irrelevant".

Key points
Tougher sentencing policy
Anti-social behaviour crackdown
Update of sex offences laws
Hunting with dogs
End to "double jeopardy" rule
Licensing laws reformed
Regional assemblies
New Railway Accident Investigation Branch
Bill aimed at tackling international crime
The prime minister claims the plans - outlined in Wednesday's Queen's Speech, which sets out the government's legislative agenda - will "rebalance" justice in favour of victims.

But Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith dismissed the proposals as the "same old story" from Labour.

Mr Duncan Smith told MPs: "After five wasted years and twelve Criminal Justice Acts, the Queen's Speech yet again promises bold action on crime.

"They promise real reform, and they fail to deliver."

He added: "You do not fight crime by undermining the civil liberties of law-abiding citizens and allow thugs and criminals to walk free."

Annual speech

Mr Duncan Smith also attacked government policy on pensions, transport, education and the health service - and its record on tax.

Earlier, in her annual speech to MPs and peers in the House of Lords, the Queen revealed Tony Blair's plans for 19 bills and three draft bills over the next 12 months.

Queen's speech day is always the prime minister's day - and Tony Blair made the most of it

But three bills from the Home Office - on criminal justice, sexual offenders and anti-social behaviour - are being pushed by Tony Blair as the centrepiece of the plans.

They include moves to make it easier to evict anti-social tenants, increase on-the-spot fines for minor offences and a crackdown on graffiti, fly-tipping and the use of airguns.

Mr Blair said anti-social behaviour was making people's lives a "misery".

And he admitted previous policies had not been as successful as hoped because they were too complex.

In a swipe at the Tories' recent internal squabbles, Mr Blair said the party was "out of touch... not so much nasty or nice, just plain simply irrelevant."

Kennedy attacks Tories

But Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy attacked the "philosophy and policy principle" behind the government's crime crackdown.

"The idea that reducing the rights of defendants benefits the victims of crime is fundamentally flawed," Mr Kennedy told MPs.

He also attacked Mr Blair's proposals on anti-social behaviour as "gimmickry", much of which had already been tried before.

The Queen
The Queen set out the government's plans
But much of his fire was reserved for the Tories, who, he claimed, were not capable of providing effective opposition to the "illiberal" measures contained in the Queen's Speech.

Other measures contained in the Queen's Speech were controversial plans to introduce "foundation hospitals", with bosses given the power to raise cash and set wages.

There was also a bill to speed up house sales and end "gazumping" and plans to resolve the bitter row over hunting with dogs.

A Sexual Offences bill aimed at protecting the vulnerable, updating laws to take account of paedophile use of the Internet and strengthening the sex offenders register, is also part of the programme.

But there are no concrete proposals towards a referendum on the UK joining the euro or on plans for further reform of the House of Lords.

Higher education

The shake-up of the criminal justice system will offer more protection to victims, witnesses and communities, with a tougher sentencing policy and more cases heard in magistrates' courts, the government says.

It will also seek to end the "double jeopardy" rule where offenders cannot be tried for the same offence twice, allowing retrials where "new and compelling" evidence emerges.

And in a move which attacked by civil liberties campaigners, the plans would also allow judges and juries to hear details of a defendant's previous convictions.

Proposals on licensing laws will abolish fixed opening hours but also include measures to combat public drunkenness.

On hunting, a bill will be introduced "to enable Parliament to reach a conclusion on hunting with dogs".

Hopes among pro-euro campaigners of the announcement of paving legislation towards a referendum on UK entry to the currency were dashed in the speech which merely restated that a judgement on the five economic tests would be made by next June.

Other plans announced include bills on modernising local government, allowing referendums on the creation of new regional assemblies and reform of rules on media ownership.

The Queen said there would be a review of higher education, but there was no mention of the controversial issue of university top-up fees, which could see students charged more to attend top universities.

The BBC's Mark Mardell
"There are six new bills aimed at cutting crime"
The BBC's Carole Walker
"There's no mention of the controversial Mental Health Bill"

Key stories

Blair's programme


Queen's Speech quiz



See also:

14 Nov 02 | Politics
14 Nov 02 | Politics
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