Ditch 'dabbler' Reid and Cabinet 'amateurs', says civil rights lawyer

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Tony Blair's cabinet ministers are today condemned as unqualified "amateurs inspired by opinion polls" who are determined to import the worst American policy initiatives.

Clive Stafford Smith, a civil rights lawyer who has devoted himself to representing US death row inmates and Guantanamo detainees, reserves his most scathing comments for John Reid. He dismisses the Home Secretary as a "dabbler" without the expertise to oversee the criminal justice system and calls for some cabinet posts to be filled by experts rather than political placemen.

Delivering the Longford Lecture, sponsored by The Independent, he will also back demands for a British Bill of Rights and ridicule plans to reform the House of Lords as laughable.

Mr Stafford Smith will warn that the way the British Cabinet is selected is a recipe for catastrophe.

"Blair bangs on about efficiency and effectiveness in business, yet does not question a system where the most complex and difficult business of all (that of running the country) is in the hands of amateurs, who change post every time one of them has an affair," he will say. "These politicians dabble in some desperately important fields and they mess them up. There may have been a time when Victorian aristocrats could muddle along in cabinet jobs.

"But the dangers of amateurism become greater as government becomes increasingly driven by the headlines of the Daily Mail. Now we not only have amateurs as ministers, but they are amateurs inspired by opinion polls."

Mr Stafford Smith will also point out that Mr Reid has held three major cabinet posts in two years, taking charge of the Home Office, the Department of Health and the Ministry of Defence.

"Reid dabbles ... he rushes around condemning his predecessors, and promising change, without any obvious sign that he knows what he is doing. He might just be getting the hang of the job when he is moved on."

He will argue that Britain could learn from the US where any qualified person can serve in the Cabinet.

Mr Stafford Smith will protest that this month's Queen's Speech was "chock-a-block with unwise ideas" about criminal justice.

He will accuse Mr Reid of borrowing US-style "populist rhetoric" to talk about victims' rights and of "chasing the extraordinary levels of incarceration in America" with moves to increase numbers in British jails.

Mr Stafford Smith will argue that ministers should produce a Bill of Rights modelled on the protection of individual rights guaranteed by the US constitution. They should also learn lessons from the American respect for freedom of religion, he will say during his lecture in London.

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