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Last Updated: Monday, 15 May 2006, 12:58 GMT 13:58 UK
Blair targets 'distant' justice
Tony Blair arrives for his speech on Monday
Tony Blair says he wants to rebalance the justice system
Most people think the criminal justice system lets people get away with breaking the rules, says Tony Blair.

As he launched a policy consultation, Mr Blair called the justice system "the public service most distant from what reasonable people want".

Public safety must be central to public service reform, he said, calling for a "profound rebalancing" of the debate on civil liberties.

Critics say Labour has had nine years to tackle the problems.

Since 1997, Labour has passed more than 40 pieces of criminal justice legislation.

Mr Blair is trying to regain the initiative on law and order issues after a spate of damaging headlines about released foreign criminals and killer Anthony Rice committing murder while on licence.

In the wake of his Cabinet reshuffle, he has written a series of letters to Cabinet ministers to set out their priorities.

He tells new Home Secretary John Reid he wants to see whether new laws are needed to tackle the issue of courts using human rights laws to over-rule the government.

And he orders Lord Chancellor Lord Falconer to deliver "speedy, simple summary justice".

Playing by the rules?

Launching Labour's Let's Talk consultation, Mr Blair said: "I believe people want a society without prejudice but with rules - rules that are fair, that we all play by, and rules that when broken carry a penalty.

"And the truth is that most people don't think we have sufficiently such a society."

Who does Mr Blair think he's kidding when he now claims he is the man to restore confidence in our criminal justice system?
Nick Clegg
Lib Dem spokesman

Mr Blair said there should not be "continual legal battles to deport people who are committing serious crimes or inciting extremism".

Drug-abusing offenders should not be put back out on the street without proper supervision, he said, and people flouting probation orders had to be penalised.

The lack of a connection between what the public expects from the criminal justice system and what it gets is becoming a recurrent theme for Mr Blair.

He said: "The problem of crime can be subject to lurid reporting or undue focus on terrible but exceptional cases.

"But even allowing for this, the fundamental point is valid.

"Despite our attempts to toughen the law and reform the criminal justice system - reform that has often uncovered problems long untouched - the criminal justice system is still the public service most distant from what reasonable people want."

Brown role

Mr Blair said crime increasingly could not be tackled unless communities were mobilised behind the police and other agencies.

Chancellor Gordon Brown would be looking at how the Treasury could help with coordinated security measures, he said.

Mr Blair repeated his call for a "profound rebalancing" of the justice system in favour of crime victims.

"The demands of the majority of the law-abiding community have to take precedence," he said.

But civil liberties campaign groups say they want to protect innocent people from injustice.

Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Nick Clegg pointed to "grotesquely overcrowded prisons", a "demoralised" probation service, among the highest reoffending rates in the western world, and low conviction rates for serious crime like rape.

"Who does Mr Blair think he's kidding when he now claims he is the man to restore confidence in our criminal justice system, after such a lamentable nine year record?"

Prescott role

Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott also addressed the Let's Talk event, which was also attended by representatives from organisations including the NHS and Microsoft.

It was Mr Prescott's first official engagement since the controversy over losing his department in the Cabinet reshuffle but keeping his salary and grace-and-favour homes.

Mr Prescott said he would be working across government to "negotiate solutions" in difficult policy areas, such as pensions.

He also revealed that last week's Cabinet had discussed civil liberties and the dangers of saying the collective rights of the public overrode the rights of individual people.

Hear what residents on a Leeds estate think about crime

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