What is the victim's role in criminal proceedings?

Focusing on the entitlement of victims to read their statements in court, it certainly makes a nice policy announcement and a nice sound bite for the 10 o’clock news. Many are of the view that it goes no further than that.

There has been a growing trend in recent times surrounding the involvement of the victim in criminal proceedings. Where once they were seen as – and made to feel – ancillary to proceedings, there has over a number of years been a change of direction.

Both Labour and the Government have sought to gain political capital from championing the victim. The government announced there would be a victims’ code. This was trashed by Labour as toothless, promising to go one better and make it a law. At first this appears to be one-upmanship, but is there any substance?

The key promises

The key promise hitting the headlines today is that where a person is found guilty, victims will now be able to read their victim personal statements aloud in court, if they wish to do so.

Among other ‘entitlements’ are to be kept informed about the police investigation, such as if a suspect is arrested and charged and any bail conditions imposed;of any appeal against the offender’s conviction or sentence; and of how to seek a review of a CPS decision not to prosecute.

Victims will also be able to opt into the Victim Contact Scheme (VCS) if the offender is sentenced to 12 months or more for a specified violent or sexual offence where they will be able to make a VPS for consideration by the Parole Board if the offender is considered for release or transfer and apply to the Parole Board to read it out at the hearing.

These all seem like decent ideas, giving a voice to the victim and ensuring they will be heard.

Politicking?

Is this new Code an exercise in PR for a government gearing up for an election? Probably. Is there anything of substance to it? I think so.

Focusing on the entitlement of victims to read their statements in court, it certainly makes a nice policy announcement and a nice sound bite for the 10 o’clock news. Many are of the view that it goes no further than that. The truth is that as the law stands at the moment, prior to the code coming into force, victims can, where appropriate, read their statement aloud in court (though the courts have stated that this will be rare). This announcement is likely to make that a more regular occurrence, though I doubt many will take up the opportunity to read their statements aloud. However, in terms of substance, if it helps a few victims with the process of coming to terms with being a victim of crime, then surely it is to be welcomed?

Is this a cosmetic change, raising the hopes of victims? The sceptics say that this changes nothing and unrealistically creates the impression of ‘ownership’ by a victim of a criminal case, which it does not. Decisions (to prosecute etc) are made by the CPS and will remain so. The Judge will decide, for example, whether a VPS should be read aloud at all, and if so, which sections are appropriate. However, those in favour see the importance for victims in being a part of the process, being kept informed, asked their opinion and given the opportunity to read their statement aloud, even if many will decline – and that is not cosmetic. It is a statement of intention, underlining that victims are no longer ancillary to proceedings, but that they have a say. This is the culmination of the rise of the victims’ voice. And why not? Judicial discretion is the ultimate safeguard against the inappropriate.

The Conservatives state that they are ‘making changes to ensure that the justice system is always on the side of victims’. Surely the point of justice is that it isn’t on anyone’s side? Let’s make sure this doesn’t go too far.

Where victims were once seen as ancillary to proceedings, they now play a bigger role. Image: Getty
Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

Why a Labour split may be in the interests of both sides

Divorce may be the best option, argues Nick Tyrone. 

Despite everything that is currently happening within the Labour Party - the open infighting amongst party officials, the threat of MPs being deselected, an increasingly bitter leadership contest between two people essentially standing on the same policy platform – the idea of a split is being talked down by everyone involved. The Labour Party will “come together” after the leadership election, somehow. The shared notion is that a split would be bad for everyone other than the Tories.

Allow me to play devil’s advocate. What the Corbynistas want is a Labour Party that is doctrinarily pure. However small that parliamentary party might be for the time being is irrelevant. The basic idea is to build up the membership into a mass movement that will then translate into seats in the House of Commons and eventually, government. You go from 500,000 members to a million, to two million, to five million until you have enough to win a general election.

The majority of the parliamentary Labour party meanwhile believe that properly opposing the Tories in government through conventional means, i.e. actually attacking things the Conservatives put forth in parliament, using mass media to gain public trust and then support, is the way forward. Also, that a revitalisation of social democracy is the ideology to go with as opposed to a nebulous form of socialism.

These two ways of looking at and approaching politics not only do not go together, they are diametric opposites. No wonder the infighting is so vicious; there is no middle way between Corbynism and the bulk of the PLP.

I understand that the Labour MPs do not want to give up on their party, but I don’t see how the membership is shifting in their favour any time soon. Most talk around a split understandably comes back to 1981 and the SDP very quickly yet consider this: the most defections the SDP ever achieved were 28. If there was a split now, it would probably involve the vast majority of the PLP, perhaps even 80 per cent of it – a very, very different proposition. There is also clearly a large number of people out there who want a centre-left, socially democratic, socially liberal party – and polls suggest that for whatever reason the Liberal Democrats cannot capitalise on this gap in the market. Some sort of new centre-left party with 150+ MPs and ex-Labour donors to kick it off just might.

Of course, a split could be a total disaster, at least in the short term, and allow the Tories further general election victories over the next decade. But let’s be honest here – given where we are, isn’t that going to happen anyhow? And if a split simply results in what happened in the 1980s recurring, thus eventually leading to a Labour Party capable of winning a general election again, would members of the PLP currently wondering what to do next not consider it worth it just for that?

Nick Tyrone is Chief Executive of Radix, the think tank for the radical centre.