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Last Updated: Monday, 15 May 2006, 14:38 GMT 15:38 UK
PM targets criminal justice
Analysis
By Nick Assinder
Political Correspondent, BBC News website

Tony Blair's remark that he wants a "profound rebalancing" of the debate on civil liberties in Britain seems calculated to stir up a controversy. And it will undoubtedly succeed.

Tony Blair
Blair wants to refocus debate
After a series of headline grabbing court decisions, and the freed foreign offenders crisis, Tony Blair has declared the criminal justice system is distant from what "reasonable people" expect from it.

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

Civil liberties groups and some opposition MPs have already voiced their fears over the tone of the prime minister's remarks.

They are being seen as another attack on judges of the sort once regularly delivered by former Home Secretary David Blunkett, and signalling an inevitable chipping away at civil liberties - something the government is already accused of.

And it is being pointed out that, after nine years in power and more than 40 new criminal justice laws, the government should take much of the responsibility for the current situation.

But perhaps the most stinging criticism is that this is just the prime minister's latest attempt to draw a line under his most difficult period in office by latching onto an issue he believes chimes with public opinion.

Radical shakeup

It is suggested that, by stirring up a controversy and questioning the judiciary - particularly on the interpretation of human rights law - the prime minister is engaged in a concerted attempt to distract attention away from his own troubles while suggesting the government is still pursuing a radical, forward looking agenda.

Police officers
Respect agenda topped election manifesto
It is certainly the case that the "respect" agenda was put at the top of the prime minister's general election manifesto. And taking on the judges is always likely to prove popular with voters, as recent newspaper headlines have shown.

And Mr Blair argues that, as with other parts of the public sector such as health and education and even government itself, the criminal justice system is long overdue a radical shakeup to drag it into the 21st century.

But precisely where the prime minister intends to take all this remains unclear.

A review of the human rights legislation seems likely, but Mr Blair has thrown the rest open to debate. And that takes time.

And his critics claim that, despite his attempts to show he is staying put in Downing Street for some time yet, he simply does not have time.

Nick.Assinder-INTERNET@bbc.co.uk




SEE ALSO:
Blair targets 'distant' justice
15 May 06 |  UK Politics
Blair 'to hold talks over exit'
09 May 06 |  UK Politics
Non-jail sentences 'are not soft'
10 May 06 |  UK Politics


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