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Judges 'could cross-examine vulnerable witnesses'

Former chief prosecutor and now Labour's advisor on victims' issues Sir Keir Starmer wrote in the Guardian has proposed that judges cross-examine vulnerable witnesses to stop them being caught-up in the "fierce" attack between defence and prosecution.

The idea that if the prosecution and defence attack each other as fiercely as possible the truth will somehow pop out has its attractions, but for particularly young and vulnerable witnesses there are obvious downsides.

Without casting around the world for the elusive perfect criminal justice system, the taskforce will consider the extent to which it might be possible to blend the adversarial and inquisitorial systems.

Perhaps judges should be given the task of questioning young and vulnerable witnesses?

New 'victims' law being considered by Labour

Labour will consider whether prosecutors should be allowed to question young and vulnerable victims in court as part of their plans for a shake-up of the justice system.

Former chief prosecutor Keir Starmer. Credit: Lewis Whyld/PA Wire

Former chief prosecutor and now Labour's advisor on victims' issues Sir Keir Starmer suggested judges could be given the task of cross-examining witnesses to stop them being caught between "fierce" prosecution and defence attacks.

Labour's newly launched Victims' Taskforce has set out a number of options to give vulnerable witnesses greater protection in court and the group will today meet victims to discuss possible changes to the law - should it win the next election.

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Starmer: Current justice system is not fit for victims

Rape victims and abused children could face greater protections when questioned in court under plans to be drawn up by Keir Starmer.

Former chief prosecutor Keir Starmer. Credit: ITV News

The former chief prosecutor told ITV News the current justice system is "not fit for victims".

He added: "Most people, particularly vulnerable victims or witnesses don't have the confidence to come forward because they don't think that criminal justice can help them."

Mr Starmer said he would advise Labour on introducing legislation, should it win power in 2015, to give greater protections to vulnerable witnesses in court.

As director of public prosecutions, Mr Starmer had to be politically neutral. But since he stood down, there have reports that he is planning to move into politics.

Agencies 'must to more' to ensure rights of victims

It is essential that the police, courts and other agencies do more to ensure that the rights of people affected by crime are at the heart of the criminal justice system, the chief executive of independent charity Victim Support said. Javed Khan added:

Victim Support welcomes any initiative that seeks to deliver better treatment for victims and witnesses and we look forward to using our experience from contacting more than one million victims every year to contribute to this review.

As director of public prosecutions, Keir Starmer QC introduced significant improvements to the way the criminal justice system treats victims and witnesses and we welcome the opportunity to work closely with him once more.

Government 'considerably improved' victim support

The Government has considerably improved the support given to vulnerable victims and witnesses in court, a spokeswoman for the Ministry of Justice has said, as plans for greater protection for victims were unveiled. The spokeswoman added:

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.

Victim protection will give public 'greater confidence'

Shadow justice secretary Sadiq Khan has said proposals to give victims of abuse better protection, would give the public greater confidence in the criminal justice system. He said:

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.

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.

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Starmer: Victims entitled to have rights enforced in law

Former Chief Prosecutor Keir Starmer QC, who is to draw up plans for rape victims and abused children Credit: PA

Victims are entitled to have their rights clearly set out and enforced by a victims' law, former chief prosecutor Keir Starmer has said, as plans for greater protection are drawn up.

Mr Starmer said: "This is a golden opportunity to recast the criminal justice system as a criminal justice service fit for victims. But it will only succeed if there is an attitude-shift across criminal justice.

"Those delivering criminal justice have been on the back foot for far too long when it comes to victims' rights."

Ex-chief prosecutor Starmer in victim protection role

Rape victims and abused children could face greater protections when questioned in court under plans to be drawn up by former chief prosecutor Keir Starmer, Labour said today.

Mr Starmer, director of public prosecutions until earlier this year, will also look at making it a legal obligation for the police and prosecutors to keep crime victims informed about the progress of investigations.

New abuse guidelines aim to prevent suffering in the future Credit: PA

There have been a number of high-profile cases where vulnerable witnesses have faced the harrowing ordeal of having to relive their experiences in detail under cross-examination in court.

Today, Mr Starmer said he would advise Labour on introducing legislation, should it win power in 2015, to give greater protections to vulnerable witnesses in court.

Read: New abuse victim guidelines

Law 'must be changed' to avoid Savile repeats

The law must be changed to require child abuse allegations to be reported, a lawyer who represents dozens of Savile victims has said.

Jimmy Savile
Liz Dux wants more steps to be taken to ensure the Savile scandal is never repeated. Credit: PA

Abuse lawyer Liz Dux, of Slater & Gordon, welcomed the recent shift in attitudes towards child abuse, but said "there is so much more that needs to be done to make sure evil like this can never prosper again."

"It is vital lessons are learnt and our clients are determined that something positive comes out of the terrible abuse they suffered."

Ms Dux expressed her support for the proposal of a law change made by former director of public prosecutions Keir Starmer.

She said: "We are now calling on the Government to introduce legislation whereby those in regulated activities who have direct knowledge of abuse and fail to do the right thing and report it will face prosecution."

Failure to report child abuse 'should be criminal offence'

Failing to report allegations of child sexual abuse should be made a criminal offence, the former director of public prosecutions has said.

Speaking on BBC Panorama, Keir Starmer said it should be "mandatory" to report allegations.

"I think the time has come to change the law and close a gap that's been there for a very long time."

Keir Starmer
Last month Keir Starmer called new child abuse guidelines the biggest shift in attitude in the criminal justice system "for a generation". Credit: PA

"The problem is if you haven't got a central provision requiring people to report, then all you can do is fall back on other provisions that aren't really designed for that purpose and that usually means they run into difficulties.

"What you really need is a clear, direct law that everybody understands."

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