Below is the full text of the speech delivered by Shadow Justice Secretary David Lammy’s speech to Labour Party conference 2021.
David Lammy, Tottenham CLP. I am excited to give my first ever conference speech, it has only taken me 21 years as an MP to get here.
When I first entered parliament people told me I looked like Denzel Washington. These days I look more like Forrest Whittaker. But I am proud to stand here as the first ever Black Shadow Justice Secretary.
Conference, I am proud that my parents arrived in the UK as part of the Windrush generation. My mother worked for the London Underground to support our family single-handedly. My aunts gave their working lives to the NHS.
Growing up in the shadow of Tottenham’s Broadwater Farm Estate, life was tough. In Thatcher’s Britain, we lived under the indignity of poverty. Racism was rife. Signs saying “No Blacks, No Dogs, No Irish” had only just disappeared.
I was just 12 when I was first stopped and searched by the police. They said I matched the description of a mugger. The reality was just like how Gavin Williamson confused Marcus Rashford with Maro Itoje, they could not tell one Black person from another.
Conference, I will never forget where I came from. I understand how justice is intertwined with everything else. Education, economics, class, race, work, welfare, housing, even health.
Prison is only for other people until someone you know ends up there. The courts are only distant until you become a victim of crime. The justice system is only abstract until it is not. We take it for granted at our peril.
But conference, taking justice for granted is exactly what the Conservatives have done. The pandemic has hit the justice system like a baseball bat but the Tories had knocked it onto its knees already.
Since 2010, the Tories closed 295 courts. The Crown Court backlog is now at an all-time high of 60,000 cases. Victims are giving up on the criminal justice system altogether. They are not being given court dates until up to four years later – if they get one at all.
Prosecutions and convictions for rape are at an all-time low. The government is now desperately setting up temporary ‘Nightingale courts’ to deal with the backlog they created. But just 30 Nightingale courts are open, a fraction of the hundreds of permanent courts this government closed.
It is a classic example of Conservative false economy. Cutting infrastructure over a decade. Now having to pay more to Sellotape the broken parts together again.
Conference, we are all proud of the legal aid system that was created by Clement Attlee’s Labour government in 1949. Its purpose is to provide legal advice for those who cannot afford it. But since 2010, the Conservatives have cut legal aid by 38%. What’s left is a legal system that only serves the rich.
In government, Labour will ensure that courts, prisons, the Probation Service, and Legal Aid are never left so vulnerable again. Probation, once the national service for second chances, has been abused by failed Tory ideology.
We should take a moment to celebrate that this year the government have finally listened to Labour and the trade unions by performing a screeching U-turn. The National Probation Service is back.
Conference, I want to pay a tribute to the hidden heroes working in our probation service, our prisons, our courts, and right across the justice system. For sacrificing so much to keep the wheels of justice turning in a pandemic with little help from the government.
To you, we say this: thank you. But now the Tories are coming after the rule of law. Conference, they are coming after your human rights. We will fight them. Conference, they are coming after Judicial Review. We will fight them. Conference, whatever rights they come for next, we will fight them.
This government is slapping the victims of Grenfell, Hillsborough and the Windrush scandal in the face. Victims who depend on their legal rights to hold the government to account. Unlike the government, which wants to water them down, Labour will strengthen your human rights.
Building on the internationalist, progressive values we all share in government Labour would legislate to bring the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child into domestic law. Make no mistake, the values that make our country great – openness, community and the rule of law – are all being trampled by Boris Johnson’s government. A charlatan who swept to power by championing division, bigotry and lawlessness.
The tragic deaths of Sabina Nessa, Sarah Everard, Bibaa Henry and Nicole Smallman this year should have been a turning point for change. But instead of addressing the epidemic of violence against women and girls, the Tories have ignored it. Proposing tougher sentences for those who graffiti statues than the minimum for those found guilty of rape. Enough is enough. Women have to feel safe on our streets.
Labour is putting ending violence against women and girls at the very top of our agenda. Fast-tracking rape and sexual assault cases in our courts, increasing minimum sentences for rapists, creating a new offence for street harassment, ensuring victims of domestic abuse get the legal aid they need and, finally conference, making misogyny a hate crime. Labour will put victims first.
The Tories have promised a Victims’ Bill in several Queens’ speeches but never delivered. Labour have produced legislation that would enshrine victims’ rights in law. It has been published. Introduced to parliament. It is ready to go.
It has been another year of widening inequality. City law firms are making billions in profit while low-paid workers see their tax bill rise and wages fall.
Labour recognises the importance of the private sector working in partnership with the public sector. That’s why today we are announcing that a Labour government would support the introduction of a new national pro bono service. With binding pro bono targets to support those who can’t afford legal advice and are ineligible for legal aid.
Conference, it cannot be right that 51% of children in prison are Black, Asian or minority ethnic. Labour will address the unfairness that runs right through the justice system. Finally implementing the Lammy Review. Introducing targets to bring in more women and more ethnic minorities to the most senior positions in our courts. We will reform the judiciary so that judges look more like the people they judge.
Under the Conservatives, everything in the justice system that is meant to be up is down and everything that is meant to be down is up. Anti-social behaviour is up, convictions are down, the court backlog is up, rehabilitation is down, racial unfairness is up, access to justice is down.
Boris Johnson promised he would level the country up but instead he is levelling the country down. Labour will turn what is supposed to be up, up. And everything that is supposed to be down, down.
The Conservatives are bringing the country down, Labour will bring the country up. Together we can make the UK the fairest country in the world. Thank you.