As well as being your local MP I’m also in Labour’s shadow justice team and part of my role there is to support victims of crime. It’s a role I take really seriously.
Way back in 2003 Labour introduced a code of rights for victims of crime and in the years that followed promised to pass a law to give them more bite.
The Tories have also pledged to pass a victims law but never got round to actually delivering it. In the period since they first promised it there’s been a million sexual offences and 350,000 rapes and none of those victims of terrible crime benefitted from the rights that had been promised.
I’m not going to wait any longer I I sat down with my team and over a period of months we thought carefully about everything we’d learned about the needs of victims and where the criminal justice system gets it wrong, and we drafted the legislation ourselves.
It’s extremely unusual for opposition to publish legislation but it felt the right thing to do. It’s almost impossible for an opposition frontbencher to formally introduce a new law but after talking it over with Keir Starmer we found a way! So today I presented a victims bill to parliament on behalf of the Labour Party.
So what does it do?
Well, firstly it writes the code of victims’ rights into law. This is what government have promised to do hasn’t. This is a good step forward but there’s a reason why we must go much further…
Right now 80% of victims are never told they have any rights at all. Simply writing those rights into law won’t make any difference because there’s no consequence for disobeying it. So we’ve inserted consequence into the law. Anyone who works in the criminal justice system (CJS) that ignores the rights of victims will be put onto a register that must be consulted when appointments are made for senior positions. It will therefore be career-limiting to ignore victims.
Let me just say that I’ve never met anyone who works in the CJS who doesn’t care about victims, whether they’re a judge or police officer there have empathy with victims. The problem is the system itself which is full of perverse incentives and a total lack of consequence for departments or managers who focus so much on one thing that victims get forgotten. That’s why I’m determined to change the system.
Victims also get new powers. Right now there’s loads of barriers to victims making a complaint and I’m sweeping them away. Can you believe that there are tens of thousands of breaches of victims rights every year but there’s only been 20 complaints raised with the ombudsman in three years! The system is broken and this bill fixes it.
There’s already a victims’ commissioner who stands up for victims and holds the system to account and I want to give her more power. Firstly I want her to be much more independent from government, have extra powers to investigate departments who breach the code and lay reports before parliament. And I want parliament to have the power of veto over any future appointments for commissioner. This government hates independent bodies, we in Labour think they’re vital to a healthy democracy and will protect them from cronyism by allowing parliament to properly scrutinise and even veto.
There’s loads more in the bill but there’s one more thing I’d love to tell you about. Right now when a perpetrator is arrested he or she are read their essential rights. It’s important because the state is removing their liberty. But there’s no point at which victims are ever read their rights and I think this is plain wrong.
Victims do something difficult and special. When they are injured or suffer loss they forgo the instinct for revenge and individual action and trust the state to do it on their behalf. It’s a really big deal and that’s why they need to know their rights with as much urgency as perpetrators. So in the victims law I stipulate that victims must be read their rights at the point at which they become victims. Not all of them of course, but the essential ones like the right to information and support, and told they have a whole set of rights there to serve and protect them. If you disagree then ask yourself the question, if not at the point of becoming a victim, then when? After a week? A month? Or as at the moment, usually never.
There’s been quite a lot of coverage of the bill today. If you want to know more the BBC coverage is here: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-55986198
And The Sun covered another aspect of the bill which grants new powers to people who suffer persistent antisocial behaviour, here: https://www.thesun.co.uk/news/politics/13987424/victims-of-anti-social-behaviour-like-crime/
As you can tell I really care about this. I want victims to have more power and control, for the system to modernise, for there to be consequences for anyone who ignores victims, and for there to be more empathy in the way victims are treated when they arrive at court.
The last thing I’ll say about the bill is that last bit about empathy. We need to allow the personal grief, anger, pain and suffering that victims endure to be recognised and not suppressed by an overweening system. So in this bill we give the right to every victim to make a personal statement in court themselves. Until now any such statement must be read by a lawyer, but if they want to do it themselves then they should. Let’s allow victims the closure they need.
You can watch me presenting the bill in parliament below:
I’ve also uploaded the full bill onto the website here so you can see it and judge it for yourself: https://www.peterkyle.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/sites/314/2021/02/Victims-Bill-2021.pdf
Please do have a read and let me know what you think.