Speech to Labour Party Conference 2013
Rt. Hon Sadiq Khan MP, Shadow Secretary of State for Justice
25 September 2013
CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY
Our justice system – a one nation justice system – relies on a fundamental principle.
Victims, witnesses and communities need to have confidence in the system.
Victims need confidence so that they report crimes.
Witnesses need confidence so they come forward and give evidence to the police and in trials.
Communities need confidence those committing crimes will be caught and properly punished.
Confidence is precious.
But it’s also fragile.
We must do all we can to protect this confidence.
But we must also strive to do better.
And make people more confident in our justice system.
But too many incidents over recent years have damaged people’s confidence.
Did the Dowler family have confidence after the way they were treated at the trial of the man responsible for Milly’s murder?
Does putting Milly’s parents through mental torture, as Milly’s sister described it, lead to confidence in the system?
Or when the victims of vile sexual grooming are told by the authorities that it’s a lifestyle choice?
Does it promote confidence when a 13 year old victim of sexual abuse is called a “sexual predator”?
Bad enough for a Crown Prosecution Service lawyer, but a disgrace when a judge says it too.
And did the rape victims who, on the 30 occasions last year reported the crime, feel confident when their rapist got away with just a caution?
Does it inspire confidence in the victim of a violent assault who does everything possible to secure a conviction?
And then finds out the attacker is freed from jail by bumping into them in the local supermarket?
Does it inspire confidence when the Prime Minister rewards failure?
Rewarding the current Justice Secretary, Chris Grayling, with a promotion.
Despite being the architect of the failing Work Programme.
Rewarding G4S and Serco with more and more contracts.
Despite them letting down the taxpayer time, and time again.
And let’s not forget the monumental gamble that Chris Grayling is proposing with public safety.
Privatising our Probation Service, and handing over supervision for dangerous and violent offenders to G4S and Serco.
Public safety in the hands of the same companies that let us down on Olympic security, tagging and prisoner transport.
Not let down by the workers.
We’ve all seen the great job G4S staff have done on conference security.
But let down by their management.
And what happens if these companies repeat their failings, and let us down in probation?
Our communities lose confidence in a justice system that rewards failure.
Victims of crime lose confidence in the ability of our justice system to punish and reform criminals.
Public safety is put at risk.
So there must be no half-baked dismantling of probation.
No reckless gambles with public safety.
No dangerous privatisation of probation by this out of touch Government.
But this out of touch Prime Minister is damaging confidence.
His Government is time and again letting down victims.
What happens when you slash compensation for innocent victims of crime?
I’ll tell you what happens.
The losers are people suffering permanent brain injuries and fractured joints through no fault of their own.
What do you get when you abolish indeterminate sentences?
You weaken public protection against the most serious and violent offenders.
What happens if you give half off sentences for guilty pleas?
You insult victims, who think the system is too tame on criminals.
What happens when you cut back judicial review?
You betray bereaved families, like the Hillsborough campaigners, who can’t challenge terrible decisions.
What’s the outcome of cutting legal aid?
The family of Jean Charles De Menezies, the innocent Brazilian man shot at Stockwell tube station would no longer have access to expert lawyers in the future.
Nor indeed the Gurkhas or the Lawrence family.
It’ll be harder for victims of domestic violence to break away from abusive partners.
And what if the Conservatives succeed in their clamour to abolish human rights laws?
There’d be less protection for victims of crime.
- Laws that halted the diabolical situation of rape victims being cross-examined directly by their attackers.
- Laws that helped bereaved families find out how loved ones died.
- Laws that offer protection against the grotesqueness of modern day slavery, human trafficking.
Human rights laws the Tories want to scrap.
Human rights laws of which Labour is proud.
Human rights laws Labour will defend.
And Conference, Britain can do better.
It deserves a one nation justice system with victims and witnesses at its heart.
I spend a lot of time visiting courts and prisons,
And speaking to victims of crime and those who work in our justice system,
So I know the task is impossible for any Justice Secretary to do this alone.
We want to stop people becoming victims of crime in the first place.
That’s the best thing Governments can do.
The Justice Secretary must work closely with other members of the cabinet to achieve it.
We need a Justice Secretary who’ll persuade the Education Secretary that cutting Sure Start or family intervention projects is a false economy.
One who’ll work with health colleagues to end the scandal of those with mental health problems languishing in our prisons.
One who’ll work with local government, the voluntary sector and those employed in or using the justice system.
I will be that Justice Secretary.
And as a one nation Justice Secretary I understand the needs of victims.
And on that, can I just say I’m so proud that Parliament is gaining the enormous expertise of Doreen Lawrence.
I’m privileged and honoured she has accepted Ed's offer and will be joining Labour’s benches in the Lords.
On issues like these Doreen brings considerable personal experience, shining a light on all the issues I’ve raised in my speech.
So what would a one nation Labour justice policy mean?
Number 1 – when someone reports a crime, the police will tell them what action will be taken and kept regularly updated.
Number 2 – when someone’s charged with an offence, victims will track the progress of the case, from beginning to end, charge to sentence, using IT.
Number 3 – victims will be kept informed when the offender is released from custody.
Simple, common sense changes that would transform thousands of lives.
We need a change of culture.
But that needs to be led and underpinned by a new Act of Parliament.
That will sweep away the worthless codes of practice that’s nothing more than pieces of paper hidden away in a drawer.
Labour will ensure victims who regularly complain that they aren’t aware of their rights and entitlements will know where they stand.
And so will judges, magistrates, the CPS, the police, lawyers, court officials, victim support, probation and everyone else.
There will be no excuses for ignoring or overlooking the rights of victims and witnesses!
And it’s not on that only legal experts truly understand how long someone will spend behind bars when a judge sentences.
Under Labour, judges and magistrates will set out in plain English a clear minimum and maximum time that will be served in prison.
With sentences published on the internet.
Labour will also raise the standard and scope of restorative justice.
We know that victims who sit down with the offender, helped by well-trained facilitators, emerge feeling better from the experience.
And done properly it reduces reoffending and, yes, saves money too.
Win, win, win!
And Labour will turn the Victims Commissioner into a full time job with real teeth and powers, reversing this Government’s disgraceful downgrading of the role.
And victims and witnesses treated as criminals in our courts must end.
Labour will push judges to stop this happening, and protect the innocent from feeling criminalised.
How we treat the vulnerable is a hallmark of a civilised society.
So we owe it to victims to put their needs first and not be treated as an afterthought.
We’ll change the culture of our justice system so victims are a priority.
We’ll bring in clear, tangible, and enforceable rights set out in an easy to understand Act of Parliament.
We’ll have a Justice Secretary, a Victims Commissioner and everyone who works in the justice system on the side of victims.
We’ll have a one nation justice system – because Britain can do better.