20 June 2001
Response from John Wadham, Director of Liberty
"The government wants to give the police more powers and erode the rights of innocent people and those caught up in the criminal justice system still further. This is despite the fact that those rights have been steadily eroded over the last twenty years and there have been over 85 Acts of Parliament dealing with crime and criminal justice since 1981. Unfortunately, all too often the extra powers tilt the balance against suspects and defendants just a little bit more.
Our biggest concerns relate to the suggestions that the rules of evidence will be changed - and will weaken the basic presumption of innocence. Changes to the rules of evidence must be fair for defendants if we are to avoid more miscarriages of justice.Use of previous convictions
This proposal is an attack on the fundamental presumption of innocence. Juries have to ask themselves whether there is enough evidence in each case to convict beyond reasonable doubt. Introducing details of previous convictions, may lead juries to convict where there is insufficient evidence and therefore to miscarriages of justice.Double jeopardy
The protection from double jeopardy is a fundamental part of our criminal justice system and we increase the chances of innocent people being convicted if we remove it. People who have been arrested and prosecuted, and who will have been locked up in prison for months before they face trial, should be free once they have been acquitted by a jury. It cannot be right to force them to go through this all over again.
We are particularly concerned if this new law is retrospective because those acquitted many years ago will be subject to a new trial.
Liberty's response to Law Commision.Tougher sentencing
Tougher sentences are unlikely to reduce crime and are more likely to reduce the possibility of rehabilitation. It is very important to ensure that decisions about release or recall to prison are fair and comply with the basic standards set out in Article 6, the right to a fair trial. Confiscation of assets
These proposals undermine the presumption of innocence, and will create a system in which accusations by the police will be enough to force people to disclose all their private financial affairs first to the police and then in public at the trial. Even if they are not found "guilty" they will have been humiliated, had to pay for lawyers and had their private life dragged through the newspapers. When it comes to the decision itself there will be no jury and the judge will take the decision on the "balance of probabilities" - a person will be "convicted" on the basis they are "probably" guilty.
See Liberty's full responses to these proposals and the opinion by expert Counsel that they offend against human rights.Independent Police Complaints Commission
We welcome the inclusion of plans for a new Independent Police Complaints Commission. It's important that the new Commission is genuinely and visibly independent of the police and is fully-resourced to investigate serious complaints. Liberty's report on the need for an IPCC was circulated by the Home Office last year. Bus passes
We also welcome the equalisation of the age for bus passes at 60. Liberty has been pursuing a case to seek this reform through the European courts.