Blair has not been tough on the causes of crime, says Woolf

Tony Blair has failed to honour his main pledge on law and order, suggested Lord Woolf, the Lord Chief Justice, to an audience of lawyers and academics.

Tony Blair has failed to honour his main pledge on law and order, the country's senior judge suggested last night. Lord Woolf, the Lord Chief Justice, told an audience of lawyers and academics that politicians "were not being sufficiently tough on the causes of crime''.

Tony Blair's promise to be "tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime'' became a decisive Labour mantra in the run-up to the party's landslide victory in the 1997 general election.

But last night Lord Woolf delivered an attack on the effectiveness of government policy in tackling prison overcrowding and failings in the criminal justice system. In a speech in which he asked, "do we need a new approach to the penal policy?'', Lord Woolf said: "Unfortunately, it has to be accepted that, for many years now the public have little confidence in the ability of the criminal justice system to ensure justice is done.

"Regrettably, each part of the system has appeared to be failing the public. Far too few of those responsible for crimes were being detected and, of those who were detected, the percentage who were successfully prosecuted to conviction was regrettably low.''

He said that, in recent years, there had been "no shortage of reviews of penal process" but each revealed "a mind-blowing situation involving vast expenditure with little, if any, long term improvement''. Lord Woolf, who was delivering the Mishcon Lecture at University College London, quoted Home Office predictions that showed the prison population would rise to 109,600 by the end of the decade.

He also said that reoffending by former prisoners cost society at least £11bn a year and that former prisoners were responsible for about one in five of all recorded crimes.

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