Labour will ensure victims of crimes are no longer forgotten

With crime at record lows, it's easy to forget those people who are still the victims of crime. Under Labour, that will never happen.

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In the rush and noise of a General Election campaign, it can be all too easy for voices to be drowned out that need to be heard. That’s why Labour will make sure that victims of crime are heard loudly and clearly in the debate before Britain decides on May 7.

We cannot afford for victims of crime to be ignored in this election. Not when so many are being failed by our criminal justice system and when such big changes are needed to deliver the better treatment they deserve.

That’s why Labour has put victims at the heart of our Crime and Justice Manifesto published today.

Our better plan for victims goes to the heart of the concerns I heard firsthand from two parents in a living room a few weeks ago.

They tragically had lost their son when he was hit by a drunk driver last year. They told me about what they’d been through and about their painful experience of the criminal justice system.   

The family had been given little information about the progress of their case. Updates were few and far between. They had no access to support services and no-one thought to tell them any were even available.

The low point was a phone call they received asking them to go through the emotional process of drafting a victims impact statement to read out in court. It was 11pm at night. The hearing was at 9am the following morning.  

Sadly it’s a sorry story I’ve heard all too often. Far too many victims are being left feeling like the criminal justice system is working against them rather than to serve and support them.

There are too few safe places to report crimes away from police stations, which puts many people off from ever coming forward to report crimes in the first place. 

For those that do, reporting a crime often ends up representing not the end of their distress, but the beginning of a different one.

There is currently no-one responsible for assessing the needs of victims or ensuring they are properly met in each region. The result is a patchy postcode lottery in local support services. 

And when victims do have their day in court, many are made to feel on trial themselves. From the adversarial way many vulnerable witnesses are cross-examined, to the victims of domestic violence I’ve met who’ve been faced with either revealing their safe address in open court or being held in contempt.

 In short, we need to make getting justice less of an ordeal.

We need to create a new culture where all victims have the confidence to come forward knowing they will always be listened to, treated with decency and given the support they need. That is the most basic concept of justice that we have all rightly been brought up to expect. 

David Cameron’s government has had every opportunity to create that better culture we so desperately need. 

In 2011 the then Victims Commissioner recommended they make a start by enshrining the rights of victims in law. Four years later and little progress has been made. Indeed Chris Grayling has spent most of the last two years dismissing Labour’s calls for action.

Our party is the only party going into this election with a comprehensive plan to deliver better, fairer justice. Our Victims’ Taskforce, led by the former Director of Public Prosecutions Sir Keir Starmer, has already laid the foundations to deliver a transformation in how victims are served.

This work will form the basis of our country’s first ever Victims’ Law if Ed Miliband walks into Downing Street on May 8th. It will guarantee victims’ rights in statute, ending years of people having to rely on toothless codes of practice and act as a catalyst for change throughout the criminal justice system.

The contrast with the hastily cobbled together proposals that the Government has rushed out could not be starker. So it’s our duty to ensure everyone knows about that clear choice before Polling Day.   

This is an issue that reaches beyond law and order. It speaks to our wider mission as a party and the values that would drive a Labour Government: giving a voice to the voiceless and standing up for the many rather than the few.

A vote for Labour is a vote for dignity and fair treatment for all victims of crime. It’s time to ensure victims are no longer forgotten.

Dan Jarvis is the Labour MP for Barnsley Central and a former Major in the Parachute Regiment.

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