Criminal law reform 'edged out'

LAW Commission chair Mr Justice Brooke has called for the creation of a fast-track system of Parliamentary scrutiny for non-contentious reforms in criminal law.

Unveiling the commission's annual report last week, Brooke said the introduction of the so-called Jellicoe procedure in Parliament has cleared the way for rapid adoption of the commission's bills in the civil law area.

But he said criminal law reforms continued to lag behind, despite a rapprochement with Parliament which has ended the log jam of law reform.

Brooke called for more support from government and opposition to fast track reforms in the criminal field “for bills concerned with the quality rather than policy of criminal law”. He said: “We are half way there with solutions on the civil law side, but not with criminal.”

During the 1993-4 period, five commission reports were adopted into law and the commission says it is “confident that even more will be implemented in the current session”. This contrasts with just four reports implemented between 1989 and 1993.

Up to eight reports may be implemented in the current year, said Brooke. But it still leaves a backlog of around 30 commission reports not acted on. Brooke warned of a natural tendency to place legal reform to the back of the legislative queue.

“Inevitably, criminal law bills get edged out. There is always something more important than making the law easier for the people that use it,” he said. “Law reform is not sexy in the political sense, but it saves money hand over fist.”

Commenting on the report, Bar chairman Peter Goldsmith QC says: “The Law Commission has rightly argued that its crucial role in streamlining our legal system should be recognised by greater and faster adoption of its proposals. 1994 may have marked a turning point in that campaign.”

The Law Commission is to embark on a review of legislation in the areas of land registration, liability for nervous shock and time limitation on bringing claims.

Other areas under review include: the law covering remedies available to companies' dissatisfied shareholders, dispute resolution for property rights of unmarried cohabitants, rules relating to hearsay evidence, and the laws of dangerous sports and consensual sado-masochistic practices.