The criminal justice system under the Tories has let victims down and criminals off the hook for far too long. The government’s so-called ‘crime week’ last week, while mostly overshadowed by reports of illegal Christmas parties, saw the Tories attempt to talk tough on crime and delivering justice for victims. The reality is that ‘crime week’ felt more like a tick box exercise of announcements to distract from failures elsewhere, rather than delivering urgent change in a justice system that is soft on crime and hard on victims.
The announcement of a consultation for a victims’ law – to strengthen rights and protections for victims everywhere – is a commitment for which Labour and the sector have been united in calling for years. But consultations are not enough. Victims want to see a victims’ law now. Dominic Raab is the sixth Justice Secretary in six years to commit to delivering one. All five of his predecessors have failed to deliver, despite Labour putting forward our own victims’ bill to parliament for the government to adopt and that does the job.
A bill that recognises the rights of victims everywhere, including victims of anti-social behaviour – a measure that the government has rightly adopted in its own consultation. A bill that holds justice agencies to account through the victims’ commissioner and empowers victims to take action when agencies ignore their rights.
The government’s embarrassing acknowledgement that the justice system is failing rape victims is a step in the right direction to doing better for victims everywhere. It is encouraging to see the government rolling out pre-recorded cross examination for vulnerable victims, nine months after Labour first announced it within our survivor’s support plan. How many victims could have been spared the trauma of court if this government had simply listened, or supported our amendment to the police, crime, sentencing and courts bill?
The harsh reality of the government’s dithering and shameful lack of commitment to victims so far is that victim confidence in the criminal justice system has now been decimated. As shadow minister for victims and youth justice, I’ve met with many survivors who tell me their experiences of the system were worse than the crime itself. Many tell me they simply won’t seek justice at all. The London Rape Review, also published last week, highlights the lack of faith victims have in the justice system, which means 65% of rape victims withdraw from the process altogether and just 1% of cases reach court.
With over 60,000 cases in the Crown Court backlog, and a staggering 435% increase in rape victims waiting longer than a year for their day in court and disastrous prosecution rates, the reality is that these measures only scratch the surface. This victims’ law must work in conjunction with efforts to transform a system that is failing to deliver justice for victims and work to restore their faith in the pursuit of justice. Labour’s ready-to-go plan to end violence against women and girls would go a long way to achieving that. It would clear the backlog through an increase in Nightingale courts, fast-track rape and sexual violence cases and ensure victims are seen, supported and protected.
Time and time again, the Tories overpromise and underdeliver. Labour in government will ensure this commitment to victims becomes a reality and in opposition we will continue to push hard for further, meaningful change to improve their experiences and deliver justice. This is Labour’s promise to victims everywhere. We will:
- Ensure that victims are aware of their rights from day one to improve access to justice.
- Empower victims by improving their rights, communication between the courts and accountability through the victims’ commissioner.
- Reduce the unprecedented backlog of Crown Court cases that means many victims are denied justice altogether.
- Ensure women and girls are made a priority by introducing a law to tackle violence against them.