A NORTH-EAST MP has spoken out against Government law reform plans.

Redcar's Vera Baird voted against Home Secretary David Blunkett's proposals to allow judges to sit without juries in complex fraud cases.

Mrs Baird, a QC, is one of 50 Labour backbenchers who have signed a Parliamentary motion criticising the planned changes, outlined in Mr Blunkett's Criminal Justice Bill.

She said trial by jury was "a very important historical feature of our democracy", but that this principle was under attack in the Bill.

She said: ''It is the best way of making a decision on facts to have 12 people drawn at random who can go away and discuss everything they have heard and level out each other's prejudices and come to a fair and sensible conclusion.

''It is steadfastly denied that it is anything to do with the economy, but I fear that it is the thin edge of the wedge, not necessarily even deliberately at this stage, but soon."

The Bill will also reform sentencing arrangements to ensure that punishment is appropriate for the offender, remove the double jeopardy rule which says a person can only be tried once for an offence, and allow juries to hear details of previous convictions of defendants.

Anti-social behaviour will also be targeted, with greater use of fines to tackle issues including graffiti, vandalism, and noise nuisance.