How Far Will the New Victims' Law Go to Protect the Vulnerable?
Keir Starmer, famous barrister and former head of the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS)
, has called for a legally enforceable victims' law, to ensure victims are able to come forward and are treated with dignity
and respect in the justice system.
What Has Brought About the Movement for a Victims' Law?
The former Director of Public Prosecutions involvement began after he had been recruited by the Labour party to chair a task force
for Labour's plans for a victims' law. It is believed by some that this will begin a move by Mr Starmer into politics.
The call follows a string of legal cases where victims have been traumatised by their experiences in court
. Frances Andrade committed suicide after giving evidence last year against Michael Brewer, who sexually abused her. During the time she gave evidence, she was accused of being a "liar" and a "fantasist"
Another girl was subject to interrogation by 7 barristers, lasting 12 days. One of these barristers persistently called the victim a liar
, reducing her to tears several times and carrying on undeterred.
Mr Starmer was also alarmed by recent figures for domestic violence. The criminal justice system has long struggled to combat domestic violence. Victims are often under overwhelming pressure by an abuser and evidence is often challenged under cross-examination
due to the fact the crime mostly occurs 'behind closed doors'.
What Can be Done?
The details of the proposed victims' law are not yet known. However, Mr Starmer was involved in producing CPS guidelines
on prosecutors' approach to child sexual abuse
cases in June last year in his former role. These guidelines set out several points, including a duty on prosecutors to challenge myths and stereotypes in court, and to ensure that cases are progressed as swiftly as possible.
Another provision required cases to be considered on their facts and merits, which followed criticism by Childline founder Esther Rantzen. She felt that many cases were dropped by the CPS because they felt the child wouldn't give convincing evidence
, or would cave under cross-examination.
Therefore, it could be expected that the victims' law will expand on CPS guidelines
, and place obligations on all parties, not just the police and the CPS.
Helen Stanton, Partner at Simpson Millar LLP commented, "It is good to see that those at the top of the legal system are now committed to ensuring justice for victims
of sexual abuse."