- A DNA fingerprint of every active criminal in Britain
will be taken as part of government plans for a wide-ranging overhaul of
the criminal justice system, the Prime Minister announced yesterday. In
his first public announcement since returning from holiday, Tony Blair
promised to deliver a courts system fit for the 21st century. Addressing
police officers in Kent, he accused the courts of being run for their own
convenience and pledged to ensure that victims, witnesses and police giving
evidence would receive more respect.
- Mr Blair declared the justice system archaic, saying
it hampered police efforts to keep up with organised crime, and announced
a £107m package to expand the DNA database. By 2004, the database
should hold more than three million samples equivalent to "almost
the whole criminal class of the UK", Downing Street claimed.
- Mr Blair's DNA plans and his strongly worded attack on
the state of the courts, police and probation services met opposition from
the legal profession and other groups. The Bar Council warned the Prime
Minister not to apply "the flame-thrower of permanent revolution"
to the courts, while the National Association of Probation Officers warned
that a lack of staff could scupper the DNA plans.
- In his speech at Kent police headquarters in Maidstone,
Mr Blair said he wanted the Government's review of the criminal justice
system to be "a harbinger of really radical reform". Signalling
what is likely to be a central project of his second term in office, he
said the crime overhaul would have the ambition and scope of the NHS national
plan and changes to education.
- "I think we have effectively got a 19th-century
justice system in a 21st-century world," the Prime Minister said.
- "We have totally failed to keep up to date with
the fact that we have got major organised crime operating a completely
different way to 50 or 60 years ago," he said.
- In a clear attempt to outflank the Tories on crime, Mr
Blair also stressed that he was in favour of so-called zero tolerance and
wanted a society based on respect for others.
- "We expect law-abiding conduct, decent civil behaviour
towards each other. This goes right from the serious crime at the top down
to the graffiti on the street wall," he said. "I believe if you
tolerate the vandal, you end up more quickly with the drug dealer. Too
many elderly people are afraid in their own homes, too many criminals unafraid
in their crime."
- In an echo of his war on the "forces of conservatism",
Mr Blair warned that resistance from certain sections of the criminal justice
system would not be allowed to prevent modernisation. "One thing I've
learnt in this job is every time we do make changes there is someone who
is adversely affected by it and leaps out and says this is monstrous,"
- Automatic three-year sentences for burglars, life for
repeat rapists, registration of sex offenders and a commitment to restricting
the right to trial by jury were all a "coherent attack on crime",
as was the idea of expanding the DNA database.
- Modernisation of the entire criminal justice system was
needed, he said, and the Government was examining how to improve protection
of witnesses and accelerate the court process, freeing more officers to
- The plans were criticised by the Bar Council, which warned
that continual modernisation did not help a system "meant to deliver
a stable judicial environment". Michael Napier, president of the Law
Society, added: "Modernisation must not be a byword for penny-pinching
economies that erode people's rights.
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