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Lottie

Juries Learn Sex Offenders' Past..

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Juries in child sex abuse and theft cases could soon be entitled to know whether the defendant has convictions for similar offences.

Prime Minister Tony Blair and Home Secretary David Blunkett said the move was designed to put victims first.

An order detailing the plans, which include widening the offences covered, was laid in Parliament on Monday.

Human rights campaigners say the changes are dangerous and "guaranteed" to cause miscarriages of justice.

At present, juries are rarely told if the accused has previous convictions for fear of hindering a fair trial.

Sarah Payne

The proposal will have to be approved by both Houses of parliament.

Cases where the law could have been applied in the past include the trial of Roy Whiting, who abducted and murdered eight-year-old schoolgirl Sarah Payne in July 2000.

The killer had a previous conviction for the abduction and indecent assault of a nine-year-old girl in June 1995.

The jury in the Roy Whiting case did not hear of his record

But the jury in the Sarah Payne trial did not hear the details until they had reached a verdict.

Mr Blunkett said the reforms put victims "at the heart of the justice system".

'Search for truth'

He said: "Trials should be a search for the truth and juries should be trusted with all the relevant evidence available to help them to reach proper and fair decisions.

"The law has recognised for over a century that evidence of a defendant's previous convictions and other misconduct may be admitted in some circumstances.

"But the current rules are confusing and difficult to apply, and can mean that evidence of previous misconduct that seems clearly relevant is still excluded from court.

"The categories I have introduced today - and further categories to be introduced in the future - will give judges clear guidance in applying the bad character provisions of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 in particular areas of offending."

'Real misery'

Mr Blair said the change would help protect the rights of victims while convicting the guilty.

He said: "It's designed to make it clear that we're not going to have people playing the system and getting away with criminal offences that cause real misery."

Just because someone has committed an offence in the past doesn't mean they have committed the current one

Mark Leech

Under the 2003 Act, judges will have discretion to allow bad character evidence - previous convictions - to be revealed from mid-December.

In most cases, details of convictions must be "strikingly similar" to the new allegations.

But Monday's order means that in child sex abuse and theft trials, the level of similarity between past offences and current charges can be lower.

The Home Office says the onus will be on making the information known.

'Miscarriages of justice'

Barry Hugill, spokesman for human rights group Liberty, said: "With the best will in the world, most jurors would find it very difficult not to be influenced by admission of previous convictions.

"That means you would be trying someone not for their alleged crime but for the those previous crimes.

"It's guaranteed that it will lead to miscarriages of justice."

Mark Leech, editor of the Prisons Handbook and founder of ex-offenders charity Unlock, said: "These new rules are dangerous and ill-thought-through.

"Just because someone has committed an offence in the past doesn't mean they have committed the current one, and it could have a dangerous snowball effect.

"What happens when a previous conviction is taken into account in a later trial and leads to a conviction, only for the earlier conviction to be later quashed because it was unsafe - where does that leave the later conviction?"

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Human rights campaigners say the changes are dangerous and "guaranteed" to cause miscarriages of justice.

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It's pretty sad that these people are looking out for the offender and not the victim.

But I do hope this change is made, and it's about time. I don't believe we have this here in Canada either. And as much as I believe that most of these offenders have been victims themselves.... I still think we've been much to lenient on them.

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Juries in child sex abuse and theft cases could soon be entitled to know whether the defendant has convictions for similar offences.

good

Human rights campaigners say the changes are dangerous and "guaranteed" to cause miscarriages of justice.

get stuffed

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