Blair: Justice system still not working
The criminal justice system is still “distant from what most reasonable people want”, Tony Blair said today.
The prime minister admitted that despite introducing dozens of pieces of criminal justice legislation since 1997, the system is still not as effective as it should be.
“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. The truth is most people don’t think we have such a society,” he told a Labour policy event this lunchtime.
“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 (CJS) – reform that has often uncovered problems long untouched – the CJS is still the public service most distant from what reasonable people want.”
His comments come after weeks of bad headlines about the justice system – the foreign prisoners row led to claims that the government has failed to get a grip on crime, while there are also concerns that the human rights act is giving too much protection to criminals.
Mr Blair has called for a review of the act after the high court last week said nine Afghan hijackers should be able to remain in the UK as asylum seekers because under human rights law, they could not be safely returned to their home country.
He dismissed the ruling as a “travesty of common sense”, and in a memo to John Reid, the new home secretary, called for a new strategy which “maintains the effectiveness of the Human Rights Act, and improves the public’s confidence in the legislation”.
Speaking today, Mr Blair explained: “We need a profound rebalancing of the civil liberties debate – it is not about whether we care about civil liberties, but about what this means in the early 21st century with completely different crime and terrorist threats.”
One of his requests to Mr Reid in his memo, which was published by Downing Street today, was for existing powers to tackle anti-social behaviour to be strengthened and applied evenly across the country.
In a similar note to constitutional affairs secretary Lord Falconer, Mr Blair also called for him to “continue to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the courts by focusing on how to bring about speedy, simply, summary justice”.
However, the prime minister’s comments have today been met with scepticism from opposition MPs, with Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Nick Clegg saying Mr Blair had a “lamentable” record in criminal justice.
“We have grotesquely overcrowded prisons, a probation service demoralised by government interference, reoffending rates among the highest in the western world, and conviction rates for serious crimes, such as rape, as low as one per cent,” he said.
“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?”