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Justice - Reform of the law

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Reform of the law

Homicide Act 1957

Two years after the execution of Ruth Ellis - and largely prompted by her case - Parliament changed the law so as to allow a defence of diminished responsibility, by passing the Homicide Act 1957.


Prevention of Terrorism Act 1974

In 1974, the IRA embarked on a vicious campaign of bombings, which left many people dead and injured. In response to the public outrage against the bombers, the Government introduced the Bill that was to become the Prevention of Terrorism Act 1974. This legislation, arguably the most draconian ever enacted in modern Britain, passed through the Commons and the Lords in one day. The Act gave new powers to the police to arrest on suspicion of terrorism, and to detain suspects for up to five days without charge.


The `Maguire Seven' and the `Guildford Four' were the first to be arrested and questioned under these new powers.  Although some of those arrested in these cases were frequently engaged in other criminal activities, none had any involvement in the crimes for which they were convicted. Despite their acquittals, some commentators, including Lord Denning were not convinced of their complete innocence.


The Criminal Law Act 1977

The Criminal Law Act 1977 reduced the power of the defence to reject unsuitable jurors.


The Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994

It allows a jury to draw adverse inferences from the defendant’s refusal to give evidence or answer questions during interrogation.


The Criminal Procedure and Investigations Act 1996

Abolished the right of the defence to seek a general disclosure of evidence from the police.


Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984

In 1978 Maxwell Confait, a male prostitute was murdered. Three educationally sub-normal boys (all under eighteen) were convicted of his murder. Whilst under police detention they were given no access to adult or legal guidance, they were interrogated for long periods of time and in the end, they confessed.  New evidence came to light that proved that the boys were innocent. The police had fabricated evidence.  A Royal Commission “The Phillip’s Commission” followed and their report was published in 1982, which led to the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984.

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