There needs to be a “cultural shift” in the way victims of crime in England and Wales are treated, a panel of criminal justice experts has said.
The group, set up by the Labour Party, has made recommendations to improve the criminal justice’s treatment of victims including giving judges the power to control the cross-examination of vulnerable witnesses. Ed Miliband, the leader of the Labour party, has said the proposals would help form a new “victims’ law” if his party is elected into office later this year.
The government set out its own plans for a ‘victims of crime’ law in September.
However, Labour set up its own taskforce to review the current treatment of victims in criminal cases headed by the former director of public prosecutions Sir Keir Starmer and Labour peer and campaigner Lady Doreen Lawrence.
In its report the taskforce has made 14 recommendations for improving the way victims of crime are dealt with by the criminal justice system. The problem, the report says, is that “our criminal justice system does not serve victims well. Many victims, particularly victims of personal or sexual violence, lack the confidence to come forward to report crime, lack adequate support if they do so, and face an unacceptable ordeal in the court room if their case gets that far”. Its report notes that an estimated 85% of the most serious sexual offences committed between 2007 and 2012 were never reported to police. Similarly, too few domestic violence incidents were recorded by police.
Shadow justice secretary, Sadiq Khan, commented:
“We can’t go on treating victims and witnesses so poorly. While the Tory-led government keeps letting down victims, Labour’s proposals would see a step change in the experiences of victims and witnesses.
“Only by giving victims and witnesses clear legal rights will police, prosecution services and courts change their culture so it is victim-centred.”
The report recommends new rights for victims to make it easier to report crimes and have them properly recorded. The report has also called for a statutory and mandatory duty on those working with children in regulated activities, such as social workers and teachers, to report suspected abuse. It has also recommended that victims should have a right to have cases reviewed if charges are not brought, greater access to information about a case’ progress and making the existing ‘victims’ code’ legally enforceable.
Sir Keir, who is standing for Labour in the May election in the safe seat of Holborn and St Pancras, said:
“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.”
“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.”
Taskforce panel member Peter Neyroud, a former chief constable of Thames Valley Police and a criminologist at Cambridge University, said that there was a ‘strong desire’ for ‘tougher legal rights for victims and witnesses, adding:
“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.”
A law would be a “defining moment” for victims’ rights, he said.
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