US law chief warns of two-tier justice

San Francisco Conference

Chris Fogarty reports from the American Bar Association's conference in San Francisco

US Attorney General Janet Reno has warned against allowing a two-tier justice system to develop in her country.

In a speech echoing concerns in the UK about how to keep a rein on a spiralling legal aid budget, Reno said the bottom line must be justice for all.

“We must build a system for all Americans,” Reno said at an ABA luncheon.

She said federal and state legislatures must be convinced that underfunding of public defenders' offices was causing unacceptable delays in the administration of justice.

Reno also urged co-operation between prosecutors and defence attorneys, arguing that as expensive high-tech evidence became more critical in trials, test results should be shared to save money.

The US chief law officer's comments backed up widespread concern within the ABA about legal aid funding for the poor.

The ABA released a poll shortly before Reno's speech which showed that 70 per cent of Americans believe the federal government should maintain funding for civil legal services to the poor.

In her second major speech to the conference Reno warned against growing political criticism of judicial decisions from within Congress. Reno said if any attempt was made by Washington to interfere with judicial appointments, judges risked becoming hostages to politics instead of guardians of constitutional principles.