Reid: No Reform of Human Rights

Article excerpt

THE Human Rights Act will not be repealed or reformed, Home Sec- retary John Reid said yesterday as he unveiled his action plan to "rebalance' the criminal justice system in favour of victims.

He announced a range of measures to toughen punishment for criminals including doubled terms for knife carriers, 8,000 new prison places and longer sentences for serious offenders.

Two major planks of sentencing policy which were introduced only last year will be dramatically altered.

However, the controversial human rights legislation " which some critics have accused of putting the rights of criminals first " will stay. Instead, Ministers will implement a range of schemes to make the existing laws work better.

Dr Reid said: "We haven't gone in saying everything is right or everything is wrong with the Human Rights Act. We have set out what we need to repair here, and how we do it.'

Earlier this year, probation watchdog Andrew Bridges revealed that convicted rapist Anthony Rice was freed to kill mother-of-one Naomi Bryant because parole and probation officers put his human rights ahead of their duties to protect the public.

Legislation may be introduced, if necessary, to ensure that protecting the public from dangerous offenders is always the top priority.

Practical "myth-busting' advice will be issued to agencies so they do not misinterpret human rights laws.

The Government will also continue to fight rulings from the European Court of Human Rights which it believes prevents it from applying the law properly.

In particular, Ministers are keen to overturn the case of Sikh militant Karamjit Singh Chahal, in which Strasbourg judges said the risk that a suspected terrorist might be tortured abroad if deported could not be balanced against the risk to a country if he were allowed to stay.

Chahal successfully argued against the UK in 1996 that returning him to India could breach Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights because he could face torture and "inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment'.

Dr Reid described Strasbourg's ruling as "outrageously imbalanced'.

The Home Secretary is to alter measures which came into force in April last year allowing prisoners to be released halfway through a life term.

A range of options will be put forward to ensure dangerous offenders serve longer.

And rules created by the Sentencing Guidelines Council which force judges to give a one-third discount on jail terms to offenders who plead guilty at an early stage " which only came into force 18 months ago " will also be re-written. …