You are here

Coalition government unveils civil liberties, crime and legal aid reform

20 May 2010

Radical reforms of the criminal justice system and a review of legal aid are two of the main planks of the coalition government’s programme, alongside a commitment to roll back the state and protect individual freedoms.

‘Freedom, Fairness, Responsibility’, the self-styled “historic document in British politics”, published this morning, promises to “deliver radical, reforming government, a stronger society, a smaller state, and power and responsibility in the hands of every citizen”.

The 31 points are listed in strict alphabetical order, with civil liberties at number 3 and justice at number 20.

Pledging to “reverse the substantial erosion of civil liberties and roll back state intrusion” the introduction to point 3 says “the British state has eroded fundamental human freedoms and historic civil liberties”.

“We need to restore the rights of individuals in the face of encroaching state power, in keeping with Britain’s tradition of freedom and fairness.”

Top of the list is the introduction of a Freedom Bill, the scrapping of the ID card scheme, of the national identity register and of the ContactPoint database, and the halting of the next generation of biometric passports.

The document also addresses the troublesome issue of human rights generally, with a commitment to establish a commission to investigate the creation of a British Bill of Rights.

The Bill would “incorporate[s] and build[s] on all our obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights, ensure[s] that these rights continue to be enshrined in British law, and protect[s] and extend[s] British liberties”.

Last week the indication was that the Conservatives had gone back on their promise to consider the repeal of the Human Rights Act, a move in line with the Lib Dems’ manifesto which was in favour of keeping the Act.

The appointment of Ken Clarke as justice secretary, who had spoken in favour of keeping the Act, added credence to the change of plan.

The announcement in the programme is a step back from these recent changes, accompanied only with a promise to “promote a better understanding of the true scope of these obligations and liberties”.

Another raft of measures will seek to address data protection issues. They include a ban on the finger-printing of school children, the adoption of the Scottish model for the DNA database and further regulation of CCTV.

There are also general promises to set up safeguards against the misuse of anti-terrorism legislation, end the storage of internet and email records without good reason and extend the scope of the Freedom of Information Act to provide greater transparency.

Other announcements include the promise to “protect historic freedoms through the defence of trial by jury”, the restoration of the right to non-violent protest, and a review of libel laws “to protect freedom of speech”.

The justice chapter of the programme lists a mixed bag of measures ranging from a review of sentencing policies and alternative treatment solution for drug offenders, to the creation of new rape victim centres and the introduction of various forms of restorative justice.

The programme also heralds the launch of a “fundamental review” of legal aid to “make it work more efficiently”.

The plans are expected to be piloted by Jonathan Djanogly, the Coats Viyella heir and MP for Huntingdon, who was appointed this morning as the new legal aid minister.

Writing in next week’s Solicitors Journal, former executive policy LSC director Richard Collins estimated the legal aid budget could be cut by as much as £0.5bn.

Categorised in:

Legal Aid Procedures Police & Prisons EU & International The Bar