Lawyers back Labour Party

LAWYERS are standing four-square behind Labour in the run up to this week's General Election, according to an opinion poll commissioned by The Lawyer.

The random telephone poll of 100 solicitors in England and Wales, which shows the Labour Party enjoying a commanding 23 per cent lead over the Tories, puts Labour on 55 per cent, the Tories on 32 per cent and the Liberal Democrats on 8 per cent.

It also shows strong endorsement for a range of Labour manifesto commitments, and disapproval of home secretary Michael Howard's criminal justice policies.

In a key finding, the poll indicates that although Labour is most trusted to reform legal aid and the civil justice system, there is little trust for any of the parties. Asked which was the “best-equipped” party to carry out the reforms, 42 per cent backed Labour, just 11 per cent cited the Tories, and 9 per cent opted for the Liberal Democrats. Thirty-seven per cent said they did not know.

Sixty-one per cent supported Labour's and the Lib Dems' plan to incorporate the European Convention on Human Rights into domestic law and just 14 per cent were in opposition. There was also support for Labour's plans to establish an independent judicial appointments and training commission. Sixty-six per cent agreed with the idea while only 16 per cent disagreed.

Labour legal affairs spokesman Paul Boateng's calls for multidisciplinary partnerships to be allowed were also endorsed: 57 per cent agreed, although a significant minority, 25 per cent, disagreed.

On criminal justice reform, the area of legal policy where the Tory party has made the headlines, there was opposition to Michael Howard's proposals, and support for the judiciary's stance against them.

Fifty-five per cent supported the stance of senior judges against Howard's policy.

But although Howard's plan to abolish jury trials for either-way cases was emphatically rejected, a significant minority – 34 per cent – did support automatic minimum sentences.

The poll was conducted on Monday and Tuesday of last week, and it shows solicitors' voting intentions to be broadly in line with those of the general public, according to polls conducted during the same period.

The Lawyer poll does, however, show stronger support for John Major among the legal community than the general public. Thirty-nine per cent said he would make the best Prime Minister, while 38 per cent backed Tony Blair.

There was also a significantly higher number of voters – 27 per cent – who were yet to make up their minds or did not intend to vote.

For full results, see page 11.