Straw identifies the causes of crime – criminals

Jack Straw continued Gordon Brown’s land grab on the Conservatives’ agenda by vowing to “balance” the law to protect the rights of victims.

The justice secretary said he would “urgently review” the law on self-defence so it is “seen to be” standing up for the victims of crime.

He told the Labour party conference so-called ‘have a go heroes’ must know the law is on their side if they want to protect their family or home.

Mr Straw said: “I know from personal experience that you have all of a millisecond to make the judgement about whether to intervene.

“In such a situation, the law on self-defence works much better than most people think; but not as well as it could or should.”

Commentators point out the self-defence laws were reviewed under Charles Clarke and speculate today’s announcement is a further attempt by the government to reach out to Tory voters.

Mr Straw said Labour had reformed the criminal justice system over the past ten years to better balance it towards victims, witnesses and law abiding citizens.

He announced the Victims’ Advocate Scheme will be rolled out from Monday to give the victims of homicide and death-by-driving crimes a voice in court.

In his keynote address to conference, Mr Straw stressed personal responsibility and respect for the rule of law.

Fifteen years after Tony Blair vowed to be “tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime”, Mr Straw said criminals must face the message “there’s only one person responsible for their criminal behaviour – themselves.”

He said the government would properly punish people convicted of crime, with plans for 9,500 new prison places. He also said more needed to be done to combat re-offending, treat addiction and improve prisoners’ skills.

The former home secretary’s comments were at odds with delegates’ in Bournemouth. Debate following his speech focused on the more comfortably left-wing ground of corporate manslaughter and domestic violence.

Mr Straw did finally respond to Conservative attacks on the Human Rights Act, although in less liberal terms than Menzies Campbell’s promise to defend the language of human rights.

The justice secretary attacked the Tories for disowning the act, pointing out senior Conservatives had drafted the European Convention on Human Rights and brought it into British law.

The act protects the right to life, fair trial, marry and free speech, he said: “Only today’s Conservatives, in their political confusion and intellectual meltdown, would contemplate abandoning those rights. We will not do so.”

But Mr Straw said the government was developing proposals for a British Bill of Rights and Responsibilities, which will balance protection with a responsibility to obey the law and respect others.

He and the prime minister will also be launching a debate on a British Statement of Values as part of Mr Brown’s constitutional reforms.