Juvenile crime is focus of attack

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The Independent Online
TOUGH legislation enabling courts to impose lengthy sentences on juveniles under 13 convicted of serious crimes and to send persistent young offenders to secure training centres was announced by the Home Office yesterday.

The measures are part of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill which, with the Police and Magistrates' Courts Bill, will be the main feature of next year's legislative programme in Parliament.

Launching both Bills yesterday, Michael Howard, the Home Secretary, said that they represented 'a comprehensive attack on every aspect of crime' and contained 18 of the 27 measures outlined in his speech to the Conservative Party Conference.

He added: 'Over the last few years the balance of justice has shifted far too far in favour of the criminal and against the victim. I am determined to put that right. I want to make it easier to catch, convict and punish the guilty.'

Tony Blair, Labour's home affairs spokesman, said the Bills were 'a series of disconnected initiatives designed to grab a set of headlines'.

Although most of the measures in the Criminal Justice Bill have been previously announced, two new proposals were disclosed yesterday. One is the lowering of the minimum age, from 13 to 10, for which juveniles convicted of serious non-homicide offences, such as robbery or rape, can be sentenced to imprisonment.

The second paves the way for further trials of electronic tagging, despite earlier experiments, relying on volunteers, which cast doubt on the system's effectiveness.

Included are measures to tackle offending while on bail, abolish the right to silence - which has alarmed lawyers and civil liberties groups - and make DNA testing easier. Police are given wider powers.

The Police and Magistrates' Court Bill proposes new-style, slimmer police authorities and gives the Home Secretary power to appoint five of the 16 members, and the chairman.

The combination of centrally directed authorities and chief constables on short-term contracts has been criticised by both local authorities and chief constables as undermining policing.

Crime crackdown, page 8