Lord Chief Justice lambasts Howard

HEATHER MILLS

Home Affairs Correspondent

The smouldering row between the Home Secretary and the judiciary erupted into open warfare last night when Britain's senior judge launched an unprecedented assault on government criminal justice policy.

Lord Taylor of Gosforth, the Lord Chief Justice, accused the Government of introducing a torrent of hasty legislation, much of it ill-conceived and contradictory, and warned that it was in danger of undermining public confidence in the justice system. Criminal law at the heart of society "should not be subject to arbitrary change by the powers that be, or to the vagaries of fashion", he said.

And, in one of the most withering speeches in what has become a long- running feud between Britain's most senior judges and ministers, Lord Taylor said flatly that Michael Howard's new proposals for tougher sentences for violent and hardened criminals "would not work".

Lord Taylor has always been careful to steer clear of judicial involvement in politics and personal criticisms of ministers, but last night's lecture to King's College, London - although carefully worded - sets him in headlong confrontation with recent Conservative criminal justice policy and in particular that of Mr Howard.

On top of the changes in the law, courts have been overwhelmed, Lord Taylor said, by management reviews, which "add to the pervading sense of frenzy and uncertainty".

Last night, clearly worried about the attack and anxious to defuse the situation, Mr Howard declined a personal response and confrontation.

Instead, at the end of a day of Home Office speculation about the contents of Lord Taylor's speech, he sanctioned a statement from officials. A spokeswoman said: "The Government has a duty to protect the public and to change the law in order to achieve that."

The statement set out a point-by-point defence of Mr Howard's proposals for a tough new sentencing regime for violent offenders, habitual burglars and drugs dealers.

Last night, the Home Secretary took some comfort from senior police, who had leapt to his defence saying that magistrates and judges were "clearly erring on the side of leniency".

But Lord Taylor said the proposals would lead to injustice, would take away any incentive for an offender to plead guilty and clog up the courts - and might just make violent offenders, knowing they face a life sentence, murder their victim and only witness.

"In my experience, having spent the best part of 40 years representing, prosecuting and passing judgment on criminals, I have no doubt that what primarily deters crime is the likelihood of detection."

Delivering his lecture, "Continuity and Change in the Criminal Law", Lord Taylor asked: "In stark terms, I wonder whether a repeat rapist, faced with an automatic life sentence, will not think it less risky to cut his losses by killing the only witness to his crime?"

Lord Taylor's criticisms come after detailed study of the Government's proposals and after a succession of other senior judicial figures - past and present - have voiced their concern. But, made after consultation with other senior judges, they will inevitably rattle the Conservative front and back benches, where some ministers and MPs have long been "gunning'' for judges after a series of humiliations in the courts.

They also feel that judges' "lenient" sentences have been thwarting the Government's fight against crime and that the judiciary is interfering too much in policy.

Lord Taylor said the last six years had seen more Criminal Justice Acts than in the previous sixty.

"Criminal justice law is threatening to become an annual event. Like the Budget, we are no longer surprised it is happening. We are merely curious to know what is going to be changed this year."

He said that recently the law on corroboration, the right to silence, and committal proceedings had been changed; sentencing policy had swung from one extreme to the other, and rules on hearsay and the withholding of previous convictions from the jury were under threat.

"It is not just the volume of legislation which has become alarming, with each successive Criminal Justice Act treading on the last one's heels. It is also the haste with which each is prepared.

"Significant and complex reforms are introduced by way of amendments halfway through the progress of a Bill through Parliament.

"As a result inconsistencies and lacunae have to be cured in the Court of Appeal or by even more legislation," he said.

Voices
On the last day of campaigning before the polling booths open, the SNP leader has written to voters in a final attempt to convince them to vote for independence
scotland decidesIs a huge gamble on oil keeping First Minister up at night?
Arts and Entertainment
Rosalind Buckland, the inspiration for Cider with Rosie died this week
booksBut what is it like to be the person who inspires a classic work of art?
Life and Style
techApple has just launched its latest mobile operating software – so what should you do first?
News
A male driver reverses his Vauxhall Astra from a tow truck
newsThe 'extremely dangerous' attempt to avoid being impounded has been heavily criticised
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Messi in action for Barcelona
filmSo what makes the little man tick?
Arts and Entertainment
tvReview: An undercooked end (spoiler alert)
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding
musicThe singer said 'the last thing I want to do is degrade'
Sport
Cesc Fabregas celebrates his first Chelsea goal
footballChelsea vs Schalke match report
Arts and Entertainment
Toby Jones (left) and Mackenzie Crook in BBC4’s new comedy The Detectorists
tvMackenzie Crook's 'Detectorists' makes the hobby look 'dysfunctional', they say
Life and Style
fashion

Olympic diver has made his modelling debut for Adidas

News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Maths Teacher

£110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for spe...

Maths Teacher

£90 - £160 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Science Teacher (mater...

Maths Teacher

£110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for an ...

Maths Teacher

£22000 - £37000 per annum: Randstad Education Leeds: A West Yorkshire School i...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week