NEW laws that could bring fresh hope to families of murder victims have still not come into effect more than a year after Parliament voted to scrap the so-called "double jeopardy" rule.

In November 2003, MPs and the House of Lords voted to abolish the centuries-old rule, which means defendants cannot be retried for the same crime if acquitted.

The move meant families of victims of serious crimes, including the relatives of 36 murder victims across the country, could see the retrial of suspects.

But the changes have become mired in red tape and later this week former Home Office law advisor Lord MacKenzie of Framwellgate will ask what is taking so long.

Police say they are powerless to act until guidelines are drawn up on how the changes should be implemented.

The Home Office had believed it would have the guidelines ready last June. But that deadline - and two others - came and went. Now civil servants say they should have them ready "in the early part of the year".

But families say they have been left in limbo despite winning the change in the law.

Parliament took the decision after a campaign led by Ann Ming and The Northern Echo. Mrs Ming's daughter, Julie Hogg, 22, was murdered on Teesside in 1989.

Billy Dunlop, a labourer from Billingham, near Stockton, was acquitted of murder after two juries failed to reach a verdict. He later admitted killing the pizza delivery girl.

Under the double jeopardy law he could only be convicted of perjury for lying under oath at the original trial.

He was jailed in May 1998 for assaulting a former girlfriend and received an extra six years to his sentence in April 2000 for perjury.

Mrs Ming hopes he could face a retrial under the legislation, which is retrospective.

Cleveland Police have confirmed they are ready to re- examine Julie's case.

Mrs Ming said: "We were told the guidelines would be sorted out by last June. Then it was October and then the end of the year. We want to get on with this and, after 16 years waiting, we want to do it now."

Lord MacKenzie, a former president of the Police Superintendents Association, said: "I have been given two deadlines myself, which have passed, and I intend to ask questions about it on the floor of the House of Lords. The whole process has simply gone on for too long and I can see no real reason why."

Mark Oaten, the Liberal Democrat home affairs spokes-man, said: "It is important to get the new law right because loopholes could mean important cases like this fail again, but it beggars belief that it could take 14 months to sort it out."

David Hines, of Jarrow, South Tyneside, set up the North East Victims Association after his 23-year-old daughter, Marie, was murdered by a former boyfriend. He is also a member of the Home Office Advisory Board.

He said: "It must be disappointing to so many people that after the fight to get the law changed, it is not being implemented."

Stockton South MP Dari Taylor said: "We have to be very, very careful about what we say, because it would be just awful if anything went wrong with this case after all this time.

"Obviously, I support this change in the law and, after spending time with Samm (the Support After Murder and Manslaughter pressure group), I have come round to the idea that life should mean life in a case like this."

A Home Office spokesman said: "The law has been changed but this is a complex issue and we will not be rushed. We must get this right. We have said the new guidelines will be in place in the early part of this year."