- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 14, 2002

LONDON Prime Minister Tony Blair's government promised yesterday to "rebalance" the justice system in favor of victims, partly by allowing some suspects to be tried twice for the same crime.
Planned legislation for the coming year, outlined in the traditional queen's speech opening a new session of Parliament, will allow juries to be told details of defendants' previous convictions and scrap the centuries-old "double jeopardy" prohibition on suspects being tried twice for the same crime.
"At the heart of my government's legislative program is a commitment to reform and rebalance the criminal justice system to deliver justice for all and to safeguard the interests of victims, witnesses and communities," said Queen Elizabeth II, who sat on a golden throne in the chamber of the House of Lords.
As customary at this event, the queen read a speech written by the government outlining its legislative plans. Lawmakers and red-robed peers packed the chamber for the speech, a ceremony redolent with pomp and pageantry.
The queen said a new criminal justice bill "will allow retrials for those acquitted of serious offenses where new and compelling evidence emerges."
The principle of double jeopardy first appeared in England in the 1160s at the center of a squabble between King Henry II and Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Becket. The rule is included in the legal codes of many former British colonies, including the United States.
Lawyers and human rights groups oppose the government's plan, which has been discussed for more than a year.
Matthias Kelly, spokesman for the Bar Council lawyers' organization, said the change would encourage police to prosecute on the basis of shaky evidence, knowing they could have a second chance later.
"The risk is these proposals will lead to more miscarriages of justice," he said.
Mark Leech, founder of the ex-convicts' charity Unlock, said the reforms were "dangerous and flawed."
"While it is true that the criminal justice system doesn't do enough to help victims of crime, you do not improve their lot by moving the legal goal posts and making convictions easier to obtain," he said.
On the international front, the government promised to continue its support for the U.S.-led war on terrorism. Referring to Iraq, the queen said the government also would combat weapons of mass destruction, "which are among the most serious threats to the security of the United Kingdom and our allies."
The government also used the queen's speech to declare war on vandals, litterers and louts.
Mr. Blair has been saying for several weeks that he plans to attack petty crime and anti-social behavior.


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