CAMPAIGNING COMMENT ON PARTS OF QUEEN'S SPEECH

Taking a break from the campaign trail to comment on parts of the Queens Speech, Hugo Charlton, Green Party Law Officer and candidate in the Kensington and Chelsea by-election, said:

"The end of the right of jury trial in most cases is perhaps the most constitutionally damaging act yet taken by this government. Whilst hardly having the glamour of the Lords reform it will have an immediate affect on more people, and is being allowed to pass hardly noticed in today's political tumult. It is an unfortunate fact of the Magistrates Courts system that in many cases a fair trial at common law is impossible, this is because there is no third party (in the Crown Court it is the judge) who decides what evidence is admissible. Thus magistrates must hear the evidence and then decide whether or not to pay it any attention. This is a form of continental investigative tribunal, for which the magistrates are not trained and for which our legal system is not designed. The fact that it has gone on for so long was partly because a jury trial was always available except for the most minor cases."

" It should also be remembered that the new system of 'plea before venue' has increased the sentencing powers of magistrates when dealing with guilty pleas by 30%."

" It is regrettable that the criminal justice system is still being used as a political football. The proposals on drugs testing again imposes an unnecessary, and practically impossible, burden on those on the frontline. Operational realities dictate that it will only be applied in a discretionary way, which may create a sense of injustice. Any competent custody officer can usually tell if a suspect has a serious drug problem, and a list of previous convictions ensures that bail is rarely granted. It is an unnecessary erosion of civil liberties. "

"The proposals to counter terrorism and covering interception of communications also provide a cause of concern. The failure to distinguish between damage to property and harm to individuals means the terrorist legislation is likely to be far too wide-ranging, and again the broad definition of 'serious crime' means the states bugging powers will continue to be excessive."

"The reform of electoral procedures is welcome. In order to vote in the Kensington and Chelsea by-election you have to have been resident there in October 1998. Green Party supporters tend to be younger and more mobile and many will be deprived of the opportunity to vote because they have only recently arrived in the constituency or have already left. It is a shame there are no plans to provide financial assistance for political parties not already in the House of Commons. This means politics will continue to be dominated by vested interests."

"I do not welcome the proposals for congestion charging. I have managed to keep it out of the Green Party's Manifesto for a Sustainable Society and have told John Prescott to his face that it is not official Green Party policy. This is because these charges simply enable richer people to cause pollution and ultimately the Green Party favours a voluntary reduction in traffic brought about improved public transport."

"At least the proposal for an Inspector of the Crown Prosecution Service has been dropped. A 'Whitehall source' had been quoted as saying the Inspector would " do a bit of kicking", which just about sums up this administration's progressive approach. I know from personal experience the CPS is overworked and understaffed, simply imposing more pressure would have enhanced a culture of blame produced yet more inefficiencies."

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