Smith to press for a new Justice Ministry

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The Independent Online
THE LABOUR leader, John Smith, will call tomorrow for the establishment of a Justice Ministry in a wide-ranging speech designed to re-establish Labour as the party of constitutional reform, writes Stephen Castle.

Mr Smith will call for the incorporation of the European Convention on Human Rights into British law, providing Britain with a Bill of Rights for the first time. He will also back abolition of the right of hereditary peers to sit in the House of Lords.

Mr Smith's plan for a Justice Ministry is designed to ensure that sentencing is harmonised throughout the country. The new ministry would take over the responsibilities of the Lord Chancellor, controlling the appointment of judges, sentencing policy and appeals.

Labour believes that the Commons exercises insufficient scrutiny over some areas of policy because the Lord Chancellor sits in the Upper Chamber.

Addressing Charter 88, the constitutional reform pressure group, Mr Smith will underline Labour's commitment to the individual by attacking the erosion of legal aid. He will also reiterate his commitment to freedom of information legislation.

Labour would immediately initiate a debate about the future of the second chamber. Mr Smith will also back fixed term Parliaments and reassert Labour's commitment to devolved power for Scotland.