Dr Charles Tannock

Member of the European Parliament for London

Justice reforms expose Labour hypocrisy

Letter to the Daily Telegraph - July 22nd 2002

Sir

Like many others, I accept that David Blunkett has acted in good faith in his attempts to strengthen the criminal justice system and to reduce the number of criminals who escape justice (report, July 18). However, as the Conservatives' Foreign Affairs Spokesman at the European Parliament, I share the concerns of those who are worried about the abolition of the rule against double jeopardy. It will be a cause of great concern if the new basis for retrial is only "new compelling evidence", without the additional safeguard "which the police could not possibly have known about at the time of the investigation".

Apart from damaging the principle of legal certainty (particularly if the change is made retrospective), the move may encourage the police to carry out less rigorous investigations, knowing they can have another attempt later on, should new evidence arise. This, in turn, might lead to more speculative prosecutions, which in itself may be inimical to the interests of justice, insofar as it results in a greater likelihood of prosecutions of the innocent.

If the change extended to crimes such as rape, where trials already proceed on the basis of evidence that would be considered insufficient to justify prosecution in the case of other crimes, there are additional dangers that need to be considered carefully.

I am also surprised by the decision, because abolition of double jeopardy would be inconsistent with our international obligations to the extent that it directly conflicts with Article 14.7 of the 1966 UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the lamentable European Charter of Fundamental Rights, which Tony Blair is allegedly preparing to make legally binding on Britain in 2004.

This point was made recently in the European Parliament, when MEPs voted for a motion criticising the apparent persecution of homosexuals in Egypt, and the fact that some defendants who had been acquitted of charges by a military court would be retried before a civilian court in violation of the 1966 covenant. Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, is currently urging China to ratify the covenant. Before the Government urges foreign states to respect covenants and treaties, it should ensure that we respect them ourselves.

Dr. Charles Tannock MEP (Con)
London SW5