28 Dec 2013

Cross-examinations too harsh for rape victims says Labour

Rape and abuse victims must be protected more in court says Labour, promising to change the law if they are elected in 2015.

Cross-examination for rape and abuse victims can be harrowing, said Shadow Justice secretary Sadiq Khan, introducing a report into the treatment of victims authored by Keir Starmer, the former director of public prosecutions.

Failing victims

“Whether it’s the father of Milly Dowler treated in court like a criminal, the 13-year-old victim of sexual abuse labelled a ‘sexual predator’ by a judge, or the victim only finding out their attacker has been released from prison by bumping into them in the supermarket, our justice system is failing too many victims,” Mr Khan said.

Condemning current prosecutor guidelines as “toothless”, the party committed today to changing the law, if they get into power in 2015.

Attention has been brought to the problem by recent high profile cases.

Suicide after court appearance

Violinist Frances Andrade killed herself a week after giving evidence against former teacher Michael Brewer, who was later found guilty of indecently assaulting his pupil. In court, the mother-of-four was called a “liar” and a “fantasist” under cross-examination.

Mr Khan said the proposals, if implemented, would give the public greater confidence in the criminal justice system.

“Victims represent some of society’s most vulnerable people. That’s why we need nothing short of a transformation if we are to deliver a criminal justice service that supports members of the public who have been innocent victims of crime through no fault of their own.”

Detailed proposals will now be drawn up by Mr Starmer and a special task force, including Labour peer Baroness Lawrence of Clarendon, whose son Stephen was murdered by racist thugs, and Peter Neyroud, former chief constable of Thames Valley Police and a criminologist at Cambridge University.

A spokeswoman for the Ministry of Justice argued that the current government had already made improvements to victims’ experience in the courts: “This government has considerably improved the support given to vulnerable victims and witnesses in court, including trialling pre-recorded cross examination, strengthening support for child witnesses and investigating how we might reduce the distress caused from multiple cross examination.

Read more: How law fails victims of foster parent abuse