Right of Reply: John Wadham

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The Independent Culture
Yesterday we reported that the Government was considering making anyone who was arrested for an indictable offence take a test for drug abuse. The director of the civil rights group Liberty responds

OF COURSE, it's easy to be cynical about any "law and order" proposal launched at a party conference - and even more so in a period when Labour is clearly concerned about being overtaken on the right.

But two decades of law and order rhetoric have produced no evidence that the erosion of rights plays any useful role in crime reduction. There is no reason to assume that the proposals for compulsory drug testing and treatment will buck the trend.

Forcibly taking a sample for drug-testing purposes is inevitably intrusive, involving samples of either blood or urine. This risks breaching the European Convention on Human Rights, brought into domestic law by the Human Rights Act, which comes into force next year.

Compelling people to undergo counselling and treatment is unlikely to be effective. Drug addiction removes autonomy. An individual who has made a decision to regain control of their life will respond to treatment quite differently from one who is merely undergoing treatment because they have been ordered to.

Tony Blair is absolutely right to say that drug-related crime urgently needs to be tackled. The Government has done some good work in drugs policy by diverting resources away from enforcement and into education, treatment and rehabilitation instead. The mystery is that it doesn't want to publicise this more. One can only assume that it is scared of looking "soft" in the law and order machismo contest.

Eroding rights does not crack crime. It's more likely to erode respect for the law - already at a low ebb in relation to drugs.

What we urgently need is a radical overhaul of our drugs laws, not more posturing. The Government should establish a royal commission to do just this. We've heard enough about being "tough on crime". It's surely time to return to the more useful idea of being tough on the causes.