Criminal solicitors have dismissed government plans to enshrine victims’ rights in law as ‘electioneering’ by an administration that has presided over an ‘under-resourced, dysfunctional criminal justice system’ that fails victims.
In the run-up to the party conference season, justice secretary Chris Grayling (pictured) last week announced a raft of measures designed to enhance victims’ experience of the criminal justice process.
They include putting into statute victims’ right to make a statement about how the crime affected them and setting up a nationwide service to provide better information and support.
He pledged to modernise court buildings to provide separate waiting areas for victims, to allow vulnerable victims to give evidence remotely and to enable compensation payments to be made ‘up front’.
Meanwhile, publicly funded advocates will have to undergo specialist training on working with vulnerable victims and witnesses before they are allowed to take serious sexual cases.
Paul Harris, managing partner at London firm Edward Fail Bradshaw Waterson and past president of the London Criminal Courts Solicitors’ Association, said: ‘The whole thing is a sham. Everything the government has done so far to the criminal justice system has been anti-victim.’
Nothing in the announcement makes up for the ‘daily failings’ for victims in an ‘under-resourced, dysfunctional criminal justice system’, he said.
Condemning the timing of the announcement, Avtar Bhatoa, chairman of the Law Society’s criminal law committee, said it ‘smacks of party conference electioneering’. What victims want, he said, is a ‘properly funded and functioning’ criminal justice system.
Bill Waddington, chairman of the Criminal Law Solicitors’ Association, questioned the government’s commitment to victims when it is denying legal aid for many victims of domestic violence