The Labour Party has announced the enlistment of the former director of public prosecutions to work on what is likely to be a key law and order commitment in its 2015 manifesto. The party announced this week that Keir Starmer QC, who completed a five-year term as DPP in November, is to advise on drawing up a ‘victims’ law’.
According to Labour, the new statute would give victims of crime entitlements to minimum standards of service as well as the ability to hold those services to account when standards are not met. ‘It 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,’ a Labour party statement said.
Labour said that a victims’ law is likely to include:
* A right to be kept fully informed of progress in the investigation of crimes;
* New protections for vulnerable witnesses facing cross-examination;
* A single point of contact for victims, 'rather than being passed from pillar to post';
* The right to be notified in advance if a perpetrator is to be released from prison;
* A commitment to release dead bodies within 28 days unless there are exceptional circumstances;
* The right to sentencing remarks in writing, in clear and plain English; and
* Access to restorative justice in addition to punishment.
The party promised that the statute ‘will be written in simple and clear English, easy and accessible for everyone working in, or who comes into contact with, our criminal justice system’.
Starmer will chair a victims’ taskforce to come forward with proposals for the law. Members of the taskforce include Labour peer Lady Lawrence and Peter Neyroud, former chief constable of Thames Valley Police.
Sadiq Khan MP, shadow justice secretary (pictured), said: ‘At the moment, there are a variety of codes and charters across various government agencies which are toothless, confusing and inadequate. 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.’
Starmer has been widely tipped as the next candidate for the safe Labour seat of Holborn and St Pancras, currently held by veteran former health secretary Frank Dobson. He said of the victims initiative: ‘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.’
The government’s victims' code, published in October, gave victims the right to address courts directly on how a crime has affected them.