Socialist Worker

Blunkett attacks our civil liberties

Issue No. 1810

DAVID BLUNKETT'S white paper on criminal justice, introduced last week, is a full-scale onslaught on our civil liberties. The paper 'was written from the point of view of a government that has decided that all those who enter a dock are bound to be guilty, and the law must be loaded to make sure they don't get away with it', said lawyer and novelist John Mortimer.

The most serious proposals in the white paper are designed to restrict the right to trial by jury. New Labour has been targeting jury trials for years. Blunkett and his cronies want to increase the sentences that magistrates' courts can dish out.

They want to get rid of jury trials in fraud cases, because they think ordinary people are too stupid to understand complicated cases.

Jury trials would also be bypassed where juries could be intimidated. But it is much harder to nobble 12 independent jurors than it is to bribe or intimidate one judge. The home secretary could also decide that cases such as the trials after the Trafalgar Square poll tax riot or the Welling anti-BNP protest were ones where the jury might be 'intimidated'.

Blunkett also wants previous convictions and acquittals to be used as evidence against defendants. This will encourage juries to judge people on what they did or did not do in the past, undermining the presumption of innocence. Blunkett and the unelected Law Lords Irving, Goldsmith and Falconer, who drafted the bill, want to end the role of ordinary people in the criminal justice system.

They say they are rebalancing the scales in favour of the victims. They never mention the hundreds of people who are victims of miscarriages of justice. The proposals will make such miscarriages more likely.

Lawrence case is exploited

THE GOVERNMENT is seeking to exploit sympathy with the Stephen Lawrence case to push through the abolition of the double jeopardy rule. Double jeopardy means someone who has been found not guilty cannot be retried. The new proposals would mean cases where 'compelling evidence of guilt' comes to light can be reopened.

The judge would only order a case to be retried if he or she had already decided there was 'compelling evidence of guilt'. This completely contradicts the idea that a defendant is innocent until proven guilty.

Freedoms eroded and safeguards weakened

BLUNKETT also wants to see:

Plea bargaining 'encouraged'. This means tempting innocent people to plead guilty by offering them a lighter sentence.

Making it easier to assume guilt from a defendant's silence.

Forcing the defence to show the prosecution any witness statements they don't use because they damage the defence's case.

Allowing 'hearsay' evidence, or gossip, as evidence without opportunities for its credibility to be challenged.

Government locks up torture victim

ONE OF the men detained under Blunkett's new anti-terrorism act is a Palestinian torture victim suffering from serious mental illness. The man was locked in Belmarsh prison under legislation rushed through after 11 September.

Mahmoud Abu Rideh is now reportedly dying after a hunger strike. Doctors at Broadmoor accused Blunkett of 'unprecedented political interference' when he overruled their advice and ordered them to admit the man. Amnesty International says Abu Rideh and eight others have been held in 'barbaric' conditions.

Already two men detained in Belmarsh volunteered to be expelled from Britain. Morocco and France saw no reason to take any action against the men considered to be dangerous terrorists by David Blunkett.

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Article information

Sat 27 Jul 2002, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1810
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