GREENS SAY STRAW'S MINISTRY MISREPRESENTS REPORT TO JUSTIFY AUTHORITARIAN REGIME
The Green Party welcomes the Home Office report by the Policy Research Unit, which urges a greater understanding of the complex relationship between drugs and crime. However we deeply regret the intention by Charles Clarke, Home Office Minister, to use it to justify drug testing of criminal suspects. The tendency for an increasingly authoritarian policing regime, which was started under the last government and pursued vigorously by the current one, is no solution to crime.
"Whilst proposals to increase rehabilitation programs are warmly welcomed, the invasion of privacy of those not yet convicted of a crime is to be condemned. It is part of a pattern whereby this government appears to be wishing to by-pass most of the judicial process," said Hugo Charlton, spokesman on legal affairs.
Jack Straw's disregard for the niceties of legal safeguards was shown by one of his firs legislative forays, the Police Act 1997, which abolished the need for Judicial approval for telephone tapping. He also cunningly disguised its real effect saying that it only involved "serious crimes", but failed to mention this actually includes, "those which might result in substantial financial gain or is conduct by a large number of persons in pursuit of a common purpose" (S.93) - which covers just about everybody organizing a march or demonstration as well as most of the City of London.
More seriously, the virtual elimination of most jury trials which will result from Magistrates being able to insist on trying all cases except the most serious, is moving us towards a continental style of an investigative tribunal without the appropriate safeguards. A fair trial is not possible in the Magistrates Courts, for example in the Crown Court, a Judge decides whether some evidence is too prejudicial to go before the jury (for example the defendant's previous convictions). But Magistrates act as judge and jury, so what is the point in deciding that something is too prejudicial to be allowed, when they have already heard what it is? Jack Straw's rules of pre-trial disclosure are now being used by judges to force defendants to explain themselves before they even come to trial, so that their discussions with their lawyers are no longer confidential, and can be used against them in front of the magistrates or jury. All these measures will be seen as being tough on crime, but they are hardly a scratch on the surface of the causes of crime.