Critics deflate Howard's crime drive

Conservative Party Conference in Bournemouth
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Crime Correspondent

Proposals to give courts new powers to confiscate criminals' driving licences as part of their punishment were condemned yesterday as a "crazy idea" which would fail to deter offenders.

Under the plans, which Michael Howard, the Home Secretary, is expected to announce to the conference today, some thieves, burglars and others criminals could be disqualified regardless of whether their offences involved cars.

The Home Secretary is also expected to suggest a scheme to "name and shame" young offenders by giving courts the power to remove the automatic anonymity for under-18s.

The initiative would be designed to humiliate tearaways and thugs and shame their parents into taking more responsibility. This proposals, leaked several weeks ago, were attacked by penal groups, which argue that it will seriously harm the chances of rehabilitation by "labelling" juveniles as trouble-makers at such an early age.

On the issue of driving-licence confiscation, ministers consider that the threat of being banned from the roads would act as a strong deterrent to a would-be offender. They also believe that by removing offenders' licences it will make further crimes, such as burglary, which often rely on access to a vehicle, far harder.

The length of disqualification would vary depending on the seriousness of the offence. A series of pilot schemes would probably be used to test the measure's effectiveness.

But the suggestion was lambasted by motoring groups, penal reformers and civil-liberties campaigners yesterday. They argued that it would be impractical, as many criminals use stolen cars and there are already more than 1 million uninsured drivers.

Also, a quarter of the motorists who are disqualified in this country are later convicted of driving while banned - suggesting the penalty has little effect. In addition, there are concerns about the civil-liberty implications of the proposed laws.

Edmund King, of the RAC, said that although his organisation supported measures to take away licences from those convicted of offences directly related to driving, such as "road-rage" crimes, it did not back an extension of this sanction.

"On a practical level, a convicted burglar who has his licence taken away is likely to continue to drive but is going to be uninsured and is likely to be driving a stolen, untraceable car."

John Wadham, director of the Liberty civil-rights group, condemned the proposal as "another crazy idea by Mr Howard". Harry Fletcher, of the National Association of Probation Officers, said: "At least half of petty thieving and burglary is drug-related.

"Losing a driving licence will not be foremost in offenders' minds."

But the idea did prompt a positive reaction from Chief Superintendent Brian MacKenzie, President of the Police Superintendents' Association.

He said: "I think it would be an excellent step forward to tackle the criminal from the mobility point of view."

Mr Howard is also considering plans, first suggested by the Labour Party, for a curfew on persistent young offenders by subjecting them to court orders banning them from the streets late at night.

The Home Office is known to be keen to extend the use of electronic tags as a way of monitoring offenders.