Issues:Election 97

The Tories have pledged to push through the sections of the Crime Sentences Bill that fell victim to the tight parliamentary schedule before the election. These include automatic minimum sentences for third-time convicted burglars.

Having opened boot-camps to curb juvenile crime, they will also introduce Parental Control Orders. The manifesto states these “might include a requirement [for parents] to keep their children in at night, taking their children to and from school, attending a drug rehabilitation clinic or going to sessions to improve their skills as parents”.

A voluntary identity cards scheme will also be introduced, as cards “can also make a contribution to safer communities”.

The manifesto does not, however, refer to the Home Secretary's proposal to deprive suspects charged with either-way offences of the right to a trial by jury.

Both Labour and the Liberal Democrats are against any identity card scheme. But Labour is now famously “tough on crime – tough on the causes of crime”, and has proposed an uncharacteristically extreme package of law and order measures.

Young offenders are again targeted – perhaps both main parties have realised that this is a potential vote-winner with no real down-side as youths are not old enough to vote.

Labour plans to decentralise the Crown Prosecution Service so that it works closer with each local police force. Also, as part of its victim-oriented emphasis, Labour will also ensure the CPS actually informs victims if cases are to be dropped.

The Liberal Democrat manifesto promises to put 3,000 more police officers on the beat, to overhaul the CPS, to encourage the use of community sentences and to “require councils to take the lead in establishing cross-community partnerships against crime”. Elsewhere, they have pledged to overturn the recent changes to the right to silence under the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994.

The Tories' plans to cap the legal aid budget are well known, and the Legal Aid Board has already embarked on a programme of pilots to test Lord Mackay's White Paper proposals to farm out legal aid through block contracts.

Their manifesto promises to continue with the project, which it says: “Will enable us to identify priorities and serve them more efficiently than the present system.”

In its 1995 policy paper Access to Justice, Labour agreed with the Tories that the cost of legal aid had “soared” and proposed, in the vaguest of terms, a Community Legal Service, based on the delivery of legal aid through franchised firms, but less dependent on private practice.

But at last year's Bar Conference, the legal profession sensed a softening of Labour hostility towards private practitioners, and, most notably, towards barristers. Shadow Lord Chancellor Lord Irvine of Lairg described cost capping as unattractive and paid lip-service to the Bar initiative to introduce a tougher legal aid merits test. But he did support block contracting, although he reassured the Bar that its fees should be protected. With regard to criminal legal aid, Irvine said cash-limiting would fall foul of the European Convention on Human Rights.

In their Access to Justice policy paper, the Liberal Democrat Lawyers Association described capping legal aid as “indefensible”, although it suggested the Legal Aid Board's franchising initiative should be extended to improve the quality of work.

All three main parties support Lord Woolf's ground-breaking inquiry report. But the vice-chancellor, Sir Richard Scott, the man charged with implementing the reforms, has publicly expressed his concern that neither of the main parties has promised to increase the budget of the Lord Chancellor's Department to help pay for the changes.

In his Bar Conference speech, however, Lord Irvine did pledge a joint review of the Woolf proposals and the reform of legal aid. This holistic approach to justice reform, which has also been proposed by the Liberal Democrats, has been welcomed by many practitioners.

Constitutionally, both the Liberal Democrats and Labour propose incorporating the European Convention on Human Rights in domestic law, and the Liberal Democrats propose a written constitution and a Bill of Rights. The Lib Dems are also still calling for a Ministry of Justice, an idea Labour has dropped.

Labour promises an Advisory Commission on Judicial Appointments to open up the selection processes to scrutiny. The commission would encourage more applications from minority groups and would increase lay involvement in selection procedures.