Justice: Clarke picks fight with judges after attack on legal system

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He risked a fresh clash with the judiciary by claiming that the country's courts did not always provide "rapid and effective justice" across the board. The Home Secretary told a fringe meeting: "I don't actually think the legal system in this country is something to admire in every respect. I don't think it gives rapid and effective justice to people ... in the way it needs to. It needs to be reformed for a lot of that to happen. I do actually think the various rights embedded in the legal system are fundamental to our democracy, but they also have to be examined in the way people are or aren't protected more widely."

He did not spell out his planned reforms, but is understood to be frustrated by the time it can take from when people are charged to when they appear in court.

Mr Clarke's comments, as the Government faces accusations of undermining fundamental civil liberties, may also be seen as a warning to judges not to frustrate new anti-terror legislation.

His attack comes at a period of tense relations between government and judiciary. Tony Blair complained recently that the courts had blocked government attempts to implement anti-terror legislation. Days later senior judges responded by warning the Government that diluting the powers of the judiciary would undermine the basis of democracy.

Mr Clarke dismissed critics who said that civil liberties were being swept away by measures such as anti-terror legislation, identity cards and antisocial behaviour orders.

He said each was "appropriate and proportionate" for the state to defend fundamental rights.

But Shami Chakrabarti, director of Liberty, told the fringe meeting organised by The Daily Telegraph that the Government was "losing the appetite" for human rights.

"Democracy is not just majority rule. If we are to safeguard our democracy - whether from the terrorists who will seek to provoke us or from future governments, however well-intentioned - it is important to remember that we do need a small bundle of non-negotiable rights and freedoms."

Robert Marshall-Andrews QC, a Labour leftwinger, said: "Terrorism is a great enemy of our property and a great enemy of our lives, but the greatest threat of terrorism is the threat to our civil liberty.''

Mr Clarke will tell the Labour conference today that he wants reform across the gamut of Home Office responsibilities.

A central part of that will be speeding up criminal justice reform, alongside tougher sentences for the most serious offenders and reducing the re-offending rates of prisoners after they are released.

He will also promise to make the asylum system more transparent, and foreshadow change within the police service. Local "command units" will be brought with local government boundaries while the smaller county forces face mergers to make them more effective.

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