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Last Updated: Tuesday, 11 October 2005, 20:20 GMT 21:20 UK
Blair takes on judges over crime
Tony Blair at his monthly news conference
Mr Blair vented his frustration over justice reforms
Tony Blair has locked horns with the judges, saying the legal system is failing to protect people from organised crime and nuisance behaviour.

His comments came as the new top judge in England and Wales warned politicians not to "browbeat" the judiciary.

Mr Blair denied he was doing that - but said both judges and politicians should keep to their proper role.

And he said he wanted more "summary justice" through instant fines because the court system was so complicated.

Laws against organised crime just were not tough enough, argued the prime minister - saying he was discussing the problem with police.

Job clash?

Mr Blair signalled his frustration in his Labour Party conference speech last month, when he said he had "battered" the criminal justice system for eight years to get it to change.

He returned to the theme when questioned at his monthly news conference on Tuesday.

The police end up being completely hide-bound by a whole series of restrictions and difficulties
Tony Blair

It came on the same day the new Lord Chief Justice, Lord Phillips of Worth Matravers, told reporters: "Occasionally one feels that an individual politician is trying to browbeat the judiciary, and that is wholly inappropriate.

"We are all trying to do our jobs to the best of our abilities."

The top judge said the judiciary had a clear job: to apply the law as laid down by Parliament.

Changing the rules

Mr Blair said denied "browbeating" judges but said he was sitting "in the decision making seat" for laws to protect people.

"All I am saying to the judiciary is be aware that there is a proper role for the judiciary and there is a proper role for government and for Parliament."

But he went on to voice his concerns about the court system.

He said: "If people want us to tackle the new types of crime today, international terrorism, this very brutal violent organised crime, antisocial behaviour... you can't do it by the rules of the game we have at the moment...

"It is too complicated, too laborious, the police end up being completely hide-bound by a whole series of restrictions and difficulties, it doesn't work."

First priority

Mr Blair said the system had to protect innocent people but protecting law abiding citizens had to come first, he said.

Among measures being examined were:

  • Tighter laws to close pubs and bars with regular disorder problems outside them

  • Stronger police powers against people using their homes to deal in any illegal drugs

  • Extending on-the-spot fines to various offences - although Mr Blair ruled out anti-social behaviour orders for children under-10.

'Wrong approach'

Critics of instant fines say they mean people must prove their innocence.

But Downing Street urges people to recognise the "hassle factor of a long lengthy legal process" rather than dealing with low level crime where it happens.

The fines are being compared to speeding tickets, where drivers can choose whether to pay up immediately or contest the case in court.

Conservative shadow home secretary David Davis said he occasionally got annoyed by judges' decisions but just attacking them was not a good idea.

"The point is to make the law very precise, make the law very accurate and then you won't get the wrong outcomes," he said.

Liberal Democrat spokesman Mark Oaten warned: "The quick powers Mr Blair is issuing for the police to give instant justice are not as effective as he is making out."

Anti-social behaviour orders could bring short-term relief to an area but ultimately only move nuisance families elsewhere, he said.




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