Howard toughens line on Justice Bill

HOME secretary Michael Howard slammed the “woolly-headed brigade” trying to block the controversial Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill before unveiling his latest plans for the justice system.

An identity card system, the world's first DNA database of criminals, and new court powers to confiscate the proceeds of crime are among his latest law and order proposals.

Tougher penalties for racial harassment are also on his menu of measures for yet another crackdown on crime.

But the Law Society was disappointed by the speech.

Howard, speaking at the Conservative Party conference, reinforced his support for the Criminal Justice Bill which contains the controversial changes to the right to silence and gives courts more powers to refuse bail.

He reassured delegates of his commitment to a proposed review authority to investigate miscarriages of justice.

But the central plank of the new agenda is a green paper, to be published next spring, setting out how a new identity card scheme might work.

One possibility was to have a single voluntary card, to be used as a benefit card and a driving licence. Three quarters of the population would have the card, no-one else would be forced to get one, but said the vast majority would.

“In time, carrying your ID card would seem as natural as carrying a credit card.”

Howard is also proposing the police should have “extensive powers” to take DNA samples from suspected criminals in order to create the world's first DNA database.

On racism, he said the maximum jail penalty for harassment would go up to six months.

“There is one other weapon we have against criminals – hitting them where it hurts, in their pockets. Today I can announce that the courts will be given new powers to confiscate criminals' ill-gotten gains.”

Law Society head of court business Diane Burleigh says the society will look closely at the identity card scheme.

Criminal Courts committee secretary Roger Ede adds: “The proposed new police caution requires suspects to disclose their defence before they know what the case against them is. This will lead to longer trials, more appeals and more miscarriages of justice.”