THE BLOG
25/02/2015 13:01 GMT | Updated 27/04/2015 06:59 BST

A Labour Government Will Deliver the Changes Our Criminal Justice System So Desperately Needs

For some time now, it's been clear that our criminal justice system is not up to scratch in the way it treats victims and witnesses. The very people it is designed to serve and protect have been ignored and mistreated. In some cases, victims have themselves been treated as criminals... While the current Victim's Code of Conduct is an improvement on its predecessor, it is still too easily dismissed by those working in the justice system. It is toothless, and the time has come to give it teeth. Putting it into law would strengthen victims' rights in a whole raft of areas.

Our criminal justice system has reached a critical fork in the road. The choice before us is stark. We can continue on the same track, treating victims of crime as an afterthought or, worse still, ignoring them altogether. Or we can opt for a wholly new direction. One in which the needs of victims and witnesses are at the very heart of our police, prosecution and courts service.

Because for some time now, it's been clear that our criminal justice system is not up to scratch in the way it treats victims and witnesses. The very people it is designed to serve and protect have been ignored and mistreated. In some cases, victims have themselves been treated as criminals. From Rotherham to Rochdale, victims weren't taken seriously, or the crimes against them weren't reported to the relevant authorities. High profile cases of witnesses or the family of victims being aggressively cross-examined in court like they were the defendants disgusted many people. This has added up to a growing sense that things aren't right, and the situation needs to improve, and get better quickly.

Because, for the wheels of justice to turn, we need people to have the confidence to come forward. We need the public to report crimes and give evidence. Only then can those guilty be caught, charged, convicted, sentenced and punished. If people don't come forward, the guilty are free to roam the streets. Communities are left at risk. And justice isn't done.

Labour recognized that things needed to change. That's why, 14 months ago, we set up the Victims' Taskforce. And charged the Taskforce with the job of coming up with the specific proposals that would lead to that change. In that time, the Taskforce has consulted widely with experts, victims and charities on what needs to be done to transform our justice system.

Through their conversations, it has become very clear that the only way in which we'll get the cultural shift in thinking on victims' rights we need is if they are enshrined in law. And this week's report outlines the rights that could be in such a victim's law. Key rights could include a right to have your crime recorded when a victims' allegation is first made. The right to appeal a decision if the authorities decide not to charge someone. To the right to know basic information about your case, making the use of new technologies to allow tracking online. The report also recommends that judges hold 'ground rules' hearing before trials start in order to control the way vulnerable victims and witnesses are treated in court.

And while the current Victim's Code of Conduct is an improvement on its predecessor, it is still too easily dismissed by those working in the justice system. It is toothless, and the time has come to give it teeth. Putting it into law would strengthen victims' rights in a whole raft of areas. And a beefed up Victims' Commissioner could be charged with being the guardian of the Code. With powers of enforcement, and tasked with publishing annual information on those agencies that breach the code.

One critical area the report focuses on is on victims of child abuse. If Rotherham and Rochdale are to be avoided in the future, the report recommends a new mandatory duty on those working with children. So non-reporting of child abuse becomes a criminal offence.

These, and other recommendations, amount to a serious package designed to transform our criminal justice system into a criminal justice service. With victims and witnesses at the very heart. And with this, there's a clear dividing line here between Labour and the Tories. On the one hand, you've Labour's Taskforce report. Making detailed and informed recommendations after 14 months of consultation and deliberation with experts, charities and victims. On the other hand, you've the Tories. Time and again, dismissive of Labour's calls for a victims' law.

Yet suddenly, and late in the day, becoming converts to the idea. But having done none of the groundwork or careful consideration. Just a cynically rushed announcement, lacking in substance, and devoid of ideas.

So, after May, it will be left to a Labour Government to deliver on the changes we so desperately need. We will take forward the recommendations in this week's report. And bring into force the country's first ever victims' law.