Lawyers and judges who treat victims and witnesses as ‘criminals’ were condemned today by the shadow justice secretary as he set out his vision of a Labour government’s justice policy.
Speaking at his party’s conference in Brighton, Sadiq Khan said he would introduce a ‘victim’s law’ setting out ‘tangible and enforceable rights’ in an ‘easy’ act of parliament to improve confidence in the justice system.
He said ‘too many incidents’ have damaged public confidence, citing the cross-examination experience of the parents of murdered teenager Milly Dowler and the case of a 13-year-old sexual abuse victim described by the prosecuting barrister and the judge as a ‘sexual predator’.
‘Victims and witnesses treated as criminals in our courts must end. Labour will push judges to stop this happening and protect the innocent from feeling criminalised,’ he said.
In a speech that made no reference to the rights of defendants he said: ‘We’ll change the culture of our justice system so victims are a priority.
‘We’ll have a justice secretary, a victim’s commissioner and everyone who works in the justice system on the side of victims.’
Khan announced that judges and magistrates will be required to set out in plain English a clear minimum and maximum time that convicted defendants will serve, with sentences published on the internet.
He indicated that Labour would bring back indeterminate sentences, saying their abolition had weakened public protection against the most serious and violent offenders.
Khan also pledged to raise the standard and scope of restorative justice and make the victim’s commissioner a full-time job with ‘real teeth and powers’ reversing the ‘government’s downgrading of the role’.
Elsewhere in his speech, he defended the Human Rights Act as a ‘crucial tool’ in protecting the rights of victims of crime and condemned the government’s ‘reckless plans’ to privatise the probation service.
Helen Grant, victims’ minister responded: ‘This government has made sure victims’ voices are heard. A new victims’ code will be published shortly that will make certain victims can hold the criminal justice system to account, leaving them in no doubt of the support to which they are entitled.
‘More money than ever before is being provided to support victims to recover. We are also trialling pre-recorded cross-examination for vulnerable witnesses and investigating how we can reduce the distress caused to victims by multiple cross-examination in court,’ Grant said.