Labour backing for ‘victims’ law’

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Published: Tuesday 24th February 2015 by The News Editor

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Proposals for a radical “victims’ law”, including giving judges the power to control the cross-examination of vulnerable witnesses in court, have been backed by Labour.

Ed Miliband said he would use the recommendations of Labour’s victims’ taskforce to form the basis of a new law if his party is in office after the general election.

The taskforce, which involved former director of public prosecutions Sir Keir Starmer QC and Labour peer and campaigner Doreen Lawrence, also called for new rights for victims to make it easier to report crimes and have them properly recorded.

The report calls for a statutory and mandatory duty on those working with children in regulated activities to report suspected abuse, backed up with the threat of criminal sanctions.

Other recommendations include a right to have cases reviewed if charges are not brought, greater access to information about a case’s progress and making the existing victims’ code legally enforceable.

The “right to decency” would require judges to control the way victims are questioned in sensitive cases following concerns about the treatment of vulnerable witnesses by the courts.

The report calls for every police force area to have an annual area victims’ plan and the introduction of national standards for the review of homicide cases where no one has been brought to justice.

Sir Keir, who is standing for Labour in the safe Holborn and St Pancras seat in May’s election, said: “We need to transform the criminal justice system into a criminal justice service.

“After 14 months of detailed work and wide consultation, we have concluded that there needs to be a cultural shift in the way victims are dealt with in our criminal justice system. The enactment of a victims’ law should be a defining moment.

“That is why we have set out clear recommendations which we believe should form the basis of the next Labour government’s victims’ law.

“It’s also clear that we need to take an unequivocal stand against the deliberate non-reporting of child sex abuse. We can’t put up with repeats of Rotherham, Rochdale, Derby or Oxford.

“That’s why we believe the time has come for a clear mandatory duty on those working with children, such as social workers and teachers in schools and care homes, to report suspected child sex abuse.”

Taskforce member Peter Neyroud, former chief constable of Thames Valley Police and a criminologist at Cambridge University, said: “From the time we’ve spent consulting with victims and witnesses, experts and charities it’s clear there’s a strong desire for tougher legal rights for victims and witnesses.

“Our report makes clear our view that the time has come for a victims’ law, which would be a defining moment for victims’ rights. A key starting point is for the police to have a clear legal duty to record crime because, as victims told us, unless their crime is recorded, few if any of the wider rights and support come into play.”

Mr Miliband said: “Our criminal justice system doesn’t serve victims well. For too long, victims and witnesses have been treated as an afterthought, or worse still ignored altogether.

“Victims lacking confidence and not coming forward means the wheels of justice grind to a halt. I welcome the recommendations put forward by Keir, Doreen and Peter. We will take this report and run with it in government, using it as the basis for the victims’ law we so desperately need.”

Published: Tuesday 24th February 2015 by The News Editor

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