Friday, June 23, 2006

We have enough laws, Mr Blair

Was I the only one to groan inwardly at the 'news' that Tony Blair has (again) called for criminal justice reform?

Haven't we had quite enough of this farce already? Only a few weeks ago, at the launch of the 'Let's Talk' consultation (wonder what happened to that whizz), Blair
conceded that the criminal justice system had failed the British people.

The question, quite reasonably, is, what is he going to do about it?

For a start, he has promised more legislation. What, in addition to the mountain of criminal justice legislation already created by this government? When will they accept that the problem is not the absence, but the implementation, of legislation. The point is that most of the criminal justice measures brought into law by this Government were unnecessary in the first place.

The whole point of legislation is to empower action, and not to 'formalise' initiatives. The Government has got this the wrong way around. We can see this by the names of the Bills they bring before Parliament. For example, the Violent Crime Reduction Bill. That title says it all. It sounds more like an aim than anything else. More like a political party manifesto than a piece of legislation. It is this sort of mentality that informs the legislative process. Far too often, we hear Government Ministers talk about the need to legislate for one thing or another, in order to 'send a message'. There seems to be a misconception at the heart of this Government as to the point of legislation.

Blair also says that we need a debate (please, no) 'about the nature of liberty in the modern world'. Am I to understand that this debate, together with more legislation, will solve the problem of dangerous criminals being freed unusually early to kill more people? Or the problem of a vicious paedophile being given a derisory prison sentence because the judge's discretion is fettered by absurd sentencing guidelines?

There is nothing wrong with our existing penal code. For the most part, the crimes afflicting society now are those that existed before 1997. The only differences relate to an increase in numbers of criminals, and a much more lax approach to enforcement. This tells me that what is needed is not a debate, however 'considered and intellectual' it may be. We also don't need new laws. We need efficiency in the criminal justice system, and that can best be achieved by concentrating on better enforcement of the existing laws.
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