Justice system is not biased against victims, says Blair adviser

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Tony Blair's attempt to begin a fightback on law and order suffered a setback when one of his own advisers cast severe doubt on his claim that the criminal justice system was biased against the victim.

Ian Loader, director of criminology at the Oxford Centre for Criminology, accused the Government of relying too heavily on headline-grabbing pledges of new legislation and warned that this would not solve the problems it perceived on crime. He said yesterday: "It is like putting a sticking plaster on a broken leg."

He challenged the central assumption in Mr Blair's strategy, which will be set out in a major speech today, that the system needed to be "rebalanced" in favour of the victim even if that meant eroding the rights of the offender.

In a paper written for the Prime Minister, Professor Loader said that successive governments had adopted a hard line on law and order since the 1980s and none had been supportive of "the rights of the criminal".

He told Mr Blair: "Yet you are now asking us to believe that during this period the criminal justice system has become 'unbalanced', such that it today unduly privileges the rights of suspects over those of the victim in ways that have led society to be poorly defended against crime. I think you need to offer more serious evidence than any I have seen that this is in fact the case, rather than simply assert that it is so, or that 'the public' believes it to be so."

The professor, who attended a recent No 10 seminar on crime, warned Mr Blair: "One isn't going to tackle the problem you have identified with a prime ministerial statement on, and yet more legislation about, the criminal justice system."

His paper, which was posted on the Downing Street website, added: "This has become, under your Government, an area of legislative hyperactivity (with in excess of 40 Acts of Parliament passed in this field since 1997), and endless proclamations of intent." Admitting that he felt "somewhat baffled" by the Government's actions, he suggested that they had more to do with electoral competition than a serious effort to address problems of crime and disorder.

The professor said: "It may even be - as the Home Office has found to its cost in recent weeks - that the dizzying pace of new initiatives has made it more difficult to keep one's eye on the ball of sound administration and delivering programmes that stand some chance of achieving positive results on the ground."

Instead, Professor Loader recommended that the Government try to "reduce the political and media heat" on crime by finding, funding, delivering and explaining to people programmes that work - such as on prison education, reassurance policing and better detection.

He also questioned criticism by ministers of the Human Rights Act, which they are reviewing. He said the Government "seems to have convinced itself that rights exist for a minority, and that too often they protect 'others' who are undeserving, or else threatening of 'our' security".

David Davis, the shadow Home Secretary, said the report was an indictment of the Government's strategy over the past nine years and reinforced the Tories' concerns over the tidal wave of legislation, regulation and initiatives that had overwhelmed the Home Office.

He said: "Far from announcing new reviews, more laws and even more initiatives, the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary would do well to buckle down to the business of government and to get a grip on the burgeoning bureaucracy that they have fostered, to deliver an improvement in public safety."

Nick Clegg, the home affairs spokesman for the Liberal Democrats, said: "These criticisms confirm the increasingly widespread view that the Government conducts policy by gimmicks, instead of according to evidence. The Government's feverish battle to sound tough in the newspapers doesn't solve our crime problems - it makes them worse. It is not too late for Mr Blair to take these criticisms seriously, pay attention to the experts, and move to policies that work."

Other papers by specialists who attended the No 10 summit also criticise the Government's approach. Anthony Bottoms, the Wolfson professor of criminology at the University of Cambridge, said changes to the criminal justice system would not tackle antisocial behaviour "bearing in mind the low detection rate for many crimes and the reluctance of some people (especially in the worst areas) to report crimes to the police because of potentially hostile social repercussions."

John Denham, the Labour chairman of the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee, criticised ministers for attacking judges on sentencing.

He said: "Instead of making occasional forays against individual judicial decisions, we need to prepare and conduct a much more fundamental debate about the proper working relationship between the judiciary, Parliament and the executive, with the emphasis on reasserting parliamentary sovereignty in key areas."

Mr Denham, a former Home Office minister, also echoed Professor Loader by saying: "While victims may certainly often feel that 'the system' does not operate in their favour, this does not mean that there is necessarily a systemic bias in favour of offenders."