The Slater and Gordon Lawyers campaign for changes to UK laws on the mandatory reporting of abuse cases has been adopted by the Labour Party’s Victims’ Taskforce with the launch of a report that aims to secure a “cultural shift in thinking on victims’ rights.”
The report, written by Keir Starmer QC, Baroness Doreen Lawrence and Peter Neyroud, a former senior police officer, intends to create a statutory framework for victims’ services across the country by introducing a mandatory reporting law and by cementing in the legislation entitlements – review of decisions, to be kept updated on cases – currently set out in the voluntary Victims’ Code. In other words, the report aims to give statutory underpinning to victims’ rights: hence a Victims’ Law, rather than yet another charter.
Upon launching the report, Starmer said, “There is a growing consensus that our criminal justice system does not serve victims well. The enactment of a Victims’ Law has to be a defining moment for victims’ rights and a clear departure from the piecemeal approach so far adopted.”
The Taskforce report calls for legislative guarantees, and advocate several key reforms, including a clear mandatory duty on those working with children within a ‘regulated activity’ to report suspected child abuse, backed up by criminal sanctions for failure to do so.
To read more about the Slater and Gordon Lawyers campaign see Mandatory Reporting of Abuse.
Why is a Victims’ Law Necessary?
The answer is set out at the beginning of the report: “One of the standout features of our criminal justice system is that most victims of personal and sexual violence are unlikely to report their allegations to the police.”
It’s an unacceptable reality that many victims have little confidence in the criminal justice system. Many of my clients who suffered child sexual exploitation in Rochdale, and gave evidence in lengthy criminal trials, vowed that they would never again undergo such a traumatic experience – and this despite the fact that their abusers were found guilty. Many more victims of crime, particularly sexual offences, never come forward in the first place. This is the biggest “justice gap” of all, and it has to change.
The oft-repeated canard is that any sort of victims’ law inevitably involves undermining or diminishing the rights of defendants. On this Starmer was clear: “Victims’ rights should not be developed at the expense of defendants’ rights. Defendants’ rights have developed for good reasons and a fair criminal justice system should protect the respect the rights of all whose interests are at stake.” This is absolutely correct. Defendants’ rights have been hard-won, and with good reason.
Those alleging that defendants’ rights would be undermined by a Victims’ Law seemed keen to make that accusation before they had actually read the report. I fail to see how ensuring that victims have safe places to disclose, ensuring that allegations of child abuse are properly investigated, ensuring the victims have a statutory right of review, and ensuring that cross examination of victims is sensibly managed, can be said to undermine the rights of defendants.
These changes will mean that serious crimes are more likely to be reported, will be properly investigated, and that victims can give their evidence in the court process without fear and intimidation. That does not undermine the rights of defendants; it simply helps us to get to the truth.
Richard Scorer is Head of the Abuse team at Slater and Gordon Lawyers UK.
If you or someone you know has been the victim of abuse and you would like expert legal advice free of charge, please call our Abuse Lawyers on freephone 0800 916 9046 or contact us online and we’ll be happy to help you. Any communication will be dealt with in the strictest confidence.
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