Former DPP calls for a law fit for victims

“Victims’ rights arrived late in the day” and have not been balanced or even considered when constructing the legal system, Sir Keir Starmer QC, former Director for Public Prosecutions, stated in a lecture at the Working Men’s College on 4 February.

The speech emphasised the points raised by him in a Guardian column the day before where he suggested retiring the phrase “criminal justice system” and replace it with “a criminal justice system fit for victims”.

 


During the lecture he conceded that there were good aspects of the present system: it is not corrupt, prosecutors are independent (he later said that during his five years in office he was never put under any pressure by any political party in respect of the hard decisions he had to take) and there are “relatively few miscarriages of justice”.

Nevertheless and for example, many victims do not feel able to make a complaint. When they do the system discounts it: under the old credibility tests “the more vulnerable the victim the less likely the prosecution” even though the number of prosecutions for false allegations are tiny compared to actual complaints.

He therefore supported a Victims’ Law which would put the changed attitude towards victims’ rights into statute. He is chairing a working party to advise the Labour Party what should be in such an Act, together with Baroness Lawrence and the former Chief Constable of Thames Valley, Peter Neyroud.

In reply to questions from the floor he said that the legal profession can be very difficult to persuade; they are “very conservative about change” but there is now more of a mood for change. This is not a “zero sum game” between defendants and victims. To those who complained that police officers are not successfully prosecuted he re-stated the law of self defence which is open to all defendants.

One innovation he championed was cameras in court. If we could protect victims and witnesses: “I’d have cameras in every court,” he said. That would “up the standards”.

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