Former DPP Keir Starmer QC will advise the Labour Party on the introduction, if it wins power in 2015, of a new law to protect victims while giving evidence in court. He called it a “golden opportunity to recast the criminal justice system as a criminal justice service fit for victims”.
According to an announcement from the party, Labour’s plans for a radical shake up of the justice system with the introduction of the country’s first ever ‘Victims’ Law’ are taking another step closer.
The proposed new law will give victims of crime new entitlements to minimum standards of service, as well as the ability to hold those services to account when standards are not met.
According to the statement: “The Victims’ Law will be an Act of Parliament and will set out in one document the rights and entitlements for victims, all with real teeth. This will replace the Government’s toothless Code of Conduct which is unenforceable and won’t deliver the culture change needed.”
It is likely to include a new right to be kept fully informed of progress in the investigation of crimes, new protections for vulnerable victims facing cross-examination and the ability to demand a single point of contact, rather than being passed from pillar to post.
The former DPP has agreed to chair a ‘Victims’ Taskforce’ to bring forward proposals for exactly what should be included in such a law. The taskforce will also include Labour Peer Doreen Lawrence and Peter Neyroud, former Chief Constable of Thames Valley Police and a criminologist at Cambridge University.
Keir Starmer QC said: “I am delighted to be involved in this crucial piece of work. Victims are entitled to have their rights clearly set out and enforced by a victims’ law. This is a golden opportunity to recast the criminal justice system as a criminal justice service fit for victims. But it will only succeed if there is an attitude-shift across criminal justice. Those delivering criminal justice have been on the back foot for far too long when it comes to victims’ rights.”
Shadow Justice Secretary Sadiq Khan MP declared: “Our police and our courts rely on the confidence of victims. We need them to come forward, report crimes and give evidence. But too often they are at best taken for granted and at worst treated with contempt.
“At the moment, there are a variety of codes and charters across various Government agencies which are toothless, confusing and inadequate. Whether it’s the father of Milly Dowler treated in court like a criminal, the 13-year-old victim of sexual abuse labelled a ‘sexual predator’ by a judge, or the victim only finding out their attacker has been released from prison by bumping into them in the supermarket, our justice system is failing too many victims.
“Labour is no longer prepared to tolerate this. Victims represent some of society’s most vulnerable people; that’s why we need nothing short of a transformation if we are to deliver a criminal justice service that supports members of the public who have been innocent victims of crime through no fault of their own.
“I’m delighted that Keir Starmer has agreed to chair a taskforce to set out plans to make this happen. As former Director of Public Prosecutions, he knows better than anyone the reforms the justice service needs in order to put victims at its heart.”