Bingham attack strikes chord

The legal profession has backed Lord Bingham's scathing attack on the Home Secretary's proposed review of the criminal justice system, saying his remarks strike a chord with practitioners and are “extremely welcome”.

The Lord Chief Justice last week condemned the current politicisation of reform of the criminal justice system. He also criticised the lack of consultation prior to the recent publication of the report on delays in the criminal justice system set up by the Home Secretary.

Addressing Gloucestershire Magistrates Court Committee last Friday, Lord Bingham said: “I think it is very highly undesirable that changes of the kind now under discussion should be the subject of party political controversy.

“Historically, issues of this kind have not occupied the foreground of political debate; it would be welcome if the future were to bring a return to a more measured and bi-partisan approach.”

Lord Bingham added that the proposals were not the result of any detailed or systematic consultation.

He singled out for attack the Home Secretary's proposals to further limit the right to jury trial, to restrict a defendant's right to engage a lawyer of his choice and to have a permanent CPS presence in police stations.

Robert Roscoe, president of the London Criminal Courts Solicitors' Association, gave Lord Bingham's remarks an “unqualified welcome”. “We are all pleased to co-operate with reform of the criminal justice system but it must be approached carefully and rationally by the Home Office and the Lord Chancellor's Department and must not be used as a political football in the General Election.”

Roger Ede, secretary to the criminal law committee at the Law Society, said the remarks would find favour with defence practitioners. He said they highlighted concern that tried and tested policies and good practice in the criminal justice system, developed over the past decade, may be sacrificed for political expediency.

A Bar Council spokesman said: “These remarks are timely and welcome. No one can doubt that the present Home Secretary has hijacked the real debate about the criminal justice system for political reasons. This has to be most regrettable.”

Vicki Chapman, policy officer at the Legal Action Group, said: “The Lord Chief Justice is absolutely right to identify these proposals as very unsuitable to the pre-election period.”