Blunkett says legal system is 200 years out of date

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The Independent Online

The Home Secretary has risked infuriating the Lord Chancellor with a damning policy blueprint that says the management of the criminal justice system is 200 years out of date and is allowing addicts on to the streets to commit more crime.

David Blunkett has produced a biting critique of the courts and accuses Lord Irvine of Lairg, the Lord Chancellor, of presiding over a justice system that undermines victims' confidence that criminals will be punished.

Labour's proposals, to be voted on at this year's party conference, call for a massive reorganisation of the court system. The paper, Justice, Security and Community, drawn up by the Home Secretary and members of Labour's policy forum, says: "The justice system needs to move from the 19th century into the 21st." It argues that the courts now fail to make offenders accountable for their actions.

The paper says the justice system needs to "reinforce offenders' sense of personal responsibility. To achieve that, we need to improve the effectiveness of our court system."

The call for reform is expected to infuriate Lord Irvine, who has been sharply criticised by Mr Blunkett for undermining his crime-cutting programme with lenient sentencing guidelines for judges.

The Lord Chief Justice, Lord Woolf, accused politicians of limiting the power of judges through distrust, because they no longer believed that the sentences being handed out in court were matching the nature of the crimes.He said: "There has been no trust in judges to impose the right sentence. The judges hands are tied." One political initiative after another had led to "the increase in the use of custody", he said.

Lord Irvine is predicted to be moved aside in an imminent reshuffle, which may also see the abolition of the Lord Chancellor's Department and the creation of a Ministry of Justice.