Tony Blair was accused yesterday of being pre-occupied with "headline-grabbing" initiatives on law and order by a leading criminologist who had been asked to advise Downing Street on fighting crime.

Ian Loader, the director of the Oxford Centre for Criminology, said yet more legislation from Labour on crime would be "like putting a plaster on a broken leg".

The damning indictment was published on the No 10 website on the eve of a speech by Mr Blair on how he intends to "rebalance" the criminal justice system to put "the needs of the victims at the heart of the process".

Prof Loader was one of five academics and police professionals invited to advise Mr Blair on future crime fighting policies.

His assessment of Labour's record on law and order makes uncomfortable reading for the Prime Minister after a series of fiascos that have engulfed the Home Office.

Prof Loader said crime and punishment had become "an area of legislative hyperactivity", with more than 47 Acts of Parliament since 1997 and endless proclamations of intent. He said this had left him baffled, as it appeared to have more to do with the imperatives of electoral competition than a serious attempt to address the problems of crime and disorder.

Prof Loader urged Mr Blair to "think hard before deciding that what our society needs is another grand statement of government purpose and a further round of headline-grabbing legislation".

Peter Neyroud, the chief constable of Thames Valley Police, urged Mr Blair to ensure that there was more "visible justice" in magistrates courts. He suggested there should be webcams so that communities could see them operate.

Downing Street defended Mr Blair's record on law and order, but admitted that he would not be announcing any new initiatives in his speech in Bristol.

However, Mr Blair will give a warning that civil liberties will have to be curbed further if crime is to be tackled.

Downing Street cited the anti-social behaviour legislation, abolition of jury trials for complex fraud cases and powers to detain terrorist suspects for longer as areas where civil liberties had already been curbed.

Officials said Mr Blair was ready to make the "hard choices" to re-balance the criminal justice system so that the "rights of the suspect" did not outweigh the rights of "the law-abiding majority".

David Davis, the Tory home affairs spokesman, said Prof Loader's comments reinforced the concerns over "the tidal wave of legislation, regulation and initiatives that have overwhelmed the Home Office, the systems of criminal justice and immigration control''.
 

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