Monday, 15 September 2014

The Tuesday Truth

The Tuesday Truth
Yesterday the Government published a victims’ charter. The stated intention of the charter is to put victims at the heart of the Criminal Justice System. This is hardly rocket science, the purpose of any Criminal Justice System must be to ensure that victims are protected, the guilty are convicted and the innocent are acquitted.

However, it is hard not to be cynical about the timing of the release of this charter.  Throughout this Government’s term in office it has hacked away at every part of the Criminal Justice System.  The Coalition has made huge cuts to the police force, the agency tasked with protecting victims, looking after their interests, investigating crimes and bringing offenders to justice.  It has made huge cuts to the CPS, the lawyers tasked with prosecuting these cases, advising the police and ensuring that these cases are properly prosecuted. It has made huge cuts to the Court Service undermining the ability of administrative staff to communicate effectively with all agencies involved in the Criminal Justice System. Facilities in court need repair, one court reported that the tannoy system was broken and there were no funds to fix it. Court canteens have been closed so that complainants, defendants, jurors and lawyers traipse off each lunchtime in search of the nearest café or sandwich shop. 

The new arrangements for interpreters have led to the standards for translating dropping in many cases below an acceptable level. Many victims and prosecution witnesses give evidence in a language other than English. When it has been realised that their evidence was not properly translated, trials have  to be adjourned and re-started again with  complainants and witnesses having to go through the entire process again.  This has occurred in cases involving young witnesses and complainants in serious sexual cases.
Every day in our shambolic justice system complainants and witnesses have to wait around at court only to be told to come back on another date.  Play delay bingo with the recurrent failures; poor liaison with witnesses, a failure of the private contractor to get the defendant to court from prison, a non existent translator or late disclosure of key evidence.

So consequently it is difficult for me to take seriously a victims’ charter when all of the actions of this Government have made life much worse for victims in the criminal justice system. 

The needs of victims are obvious and simple.   Instead of publicising a glossy brochure with nice catchphrases for the public to swallow prior to a general election, this Government would have been better off investing in the people who actually make the criminal system run.  Instead they have damaged every single element of the system.

The timing also handily diverts attention away from the concern over the crisis in suicide, self harm and violence in our prisons.  

There is nothing in the Victim’s Charter which makes up for the daily failing of victims in an under resourced, dysfunctional criminal justice system.  This is a desperate attempt by the Lord Chancellor to try and cover up many of the other disasters in the department he has presided over.   If he and the Prime Minister think the public will fall for this superficial paper exercise they are sadly mistaken.

On Friday in yet another judicial review triggered by the Justice Secretary’s cavalier disregard for fairness and protection of the vulnerable, a group representing women victims of abuse will challenge the lawfulness of the denial of legal aid to women in abusive relationships. The much heralded safety net which was supposed, post LASPO, to remain in place for women experiencing domestic violence has not worked. The pressure group Rights for Women report a huge increase in women unable to get legal help or going into debt trying to hire a lawyer to fight for them.

If this government cared about victims why has it shut the court door on so many who desperately need justice?    Answers on a postcard to Chris Grayling, Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice.

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