Tories vow to beef up police powers

Police should be given more power to alert communities to dangerous criminals in their midst, the Tories said today as they promised a shake-up of rules to make public protection the top priority.

They said that under Labour, criminals enjoyed an "automatic privacy", blaming the Human Rights Act and flawed Government policy for confusion over rights that had left the public "in the dark".

Plans to be set out at the party's annual conference in Manchester today would include new guidance setting out scenarios where a convicted criminal's identity could be disclosed, such as to help catch a fugitive.

Spokesman Dominic Grieve, who is committed to replacing the Human Rights Act with a British Bill of Rights, said: "Under Labour, the rights of criminals have been put before the rights of law-abiding citizens.

"A Conservative Government will free the police, probation and prison services to name offenders where necessary in order to protect the public and prevent crime."

The plans were dismissed by Justice Secretary Jack Straw as a "deeply confused populist announcement" which ignored that fact the police already had such powers.

"This is yet another piece of policy hastily cobbled together by the Tories," Mr Straw said.

"The outcomes of court cases are already on the public record. Courts are open so that justice can be seen to be done. Police are able to use this information to inform the public, and regularly make announcements about wanted criminals.

"This is a deeply confused populist announcement which, like so many Conservative policies this week, falls apart the moment it is subjected to scrutiny.

"Even Conservative supporters now accept that Tory policy on the Human Rights Act is flawed and impractical. I am surprised that Dominic Grieve has allowed his name to be used alongside this poorly-researched piece of work.

"It seems that he feels under such pressure from hard line right-wingers that he has abandoned his previously principled position in a vain effort to appear 'tough'. It has failed."

Shadow home secretary Chris Grayling will call in his speech in Manchester today for instant punishments for youngsters who get into trouble, which could include young people being "grounded" by police but would mean they escape a criminal record.

Mr Grayling told GMTV: "I don't want too give a lot of 13 or 14 year-olds a criminal record which effects their prospects in later life.

"What I want is simple instant punishments, so the police are able to say 'You are grounded for a couple of weeks'."

Shami Chakrabarti, director of Liberty, said: "As the Conservatives well know, there is nothing in the Human Rights Act that prevents Crimewatch being aired or the identification of dangerous offenders at large.

"It is a thoroughly good idea to provide reassuring guidance for the police service but a thoroughly bad idea to perpetuate dangerous myths about the law to grab headlines at a party political conference."