Home Office in-tray is full of lethal traps

Law Editor,Robert Verkaik
Sunday 21 July 2013 03:00

The new Home Secretary will find a brimming in-tray of pressing matters that need careful handling.

The potential political banana skins include the ID card scheme which has become so unpopular. Jacqui Smith chose to fight the next election on a platform which would make ID cards central to the Government's pledge to be uncompromisingly tough on law and order. But her successor could buy off a highly effective civil liberties lobby by ditching the scheme altogether.

There are tough decisions ahead on the DNA database and plans to implement EU laws to monitor everyone's email and internet traffic. Concessions have been made on both but there is room for political manoeuvre.

After the European court found the Government had breached the human rights of people wrongly accused of crimes, Ms Smith grudgingly agreed to do the bare minimum to satisfy the judgment on the DNA database. Her proposals still allow the police to retain for 12 years the DNA of people cleared of serious sexual and violent offences.

A commitment to destroy all DNA profiles taken from innocent suspects would appease MPs across the political spectrum. Greater assurances about the safety of technology used to spy on mobile phone and internet communications would achieve a similar result.

Then there are relations with the police. Ms Smith alienated tens of thousands of rank-and-file officers by appearing to pick a fight over pay.

The Home Office has been a graveyard for a number of Labour politicians who have harboured high ambitions, the most famous being David Blunkett and Charles Clarke. Stewardship of this troubled ministry is more about managing bad news than bringing in enlightened, popular reform.

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