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Parliament, Legislation And Public Sector

Former DPP to head up Labour’s victims’ ‘taskforce’

Picture of Keir Starmer QC for Your Expert Witness storyFormer DPP Keir Starmer QC will advise the Labour Party on the introduction, if it wins power in 2015, of a new law to protect victims while giving evidence in court. He called it a “golden opportunity to recast the criminal justice system as a criminal justice service fit for victims”.

According to an announcement from the party, Labour’s plans for a radical shake up of the justice system with the introduction of the country’s first ever ‘Victims’ Law’ are taking another step closer.

The proposed new law will give victims of crime new entitlements to minimum standards of service, as well as the ability to hold those services to account when standards are not met.

According to the statement: “The Victims’ Law will be an Act of Parliament and will set out in one document the rights and entitlements for victims, all with real teeth. This will replace the Government’s toothless Code of Conduct which is unenforceable and won’t deliver the culture change needed.”

It is likely to include a new right to be kept fully informed of progress in the investigation of crimes, new protections for vulnerable victims facing cross-examination and the ability to demand a single point of contact, rather than being passed from pillar to post.

The former DPP has agreed to chair a ‘Victims’ Taskforce’ to bring forward proposals for exactly what should be included in such a law. The taskforce will also include Labour Peer Doreen Lawrence and Peter Neyroud, former Chief Constable of Thames Valley Police and a criminologist at Cambridge University.

Keir Starmer QC said: “I am delighted to be involved in this crucial piece of work. Victims are entitled to have their rights clearly set out and enforced by a victims’ law. 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.”

Shadow Justice Secretary Sadiq Khan MP declared: “Our police and our courts rely on the confidence of victims. We need them to come forward, report crimes and give evidence. But too often they are at best taken for granted and at worst treated with contempt.

“At the moment, there are a variety of codes and charters across various Government agencies which are toothless, confusing and inadequate. 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.

“Labour is no longer prepared to tolerate this. 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.

“I’m delighted that Keir Starmer has agreed to chair a taskforce to set out plans to make this happen. As former Director of Public Prosecutions, he knows better than anyone the reforms the justice service needs in order to put victims at its heart.”

Last Updated on Saturday, 28 December 2013 18:14

Peers call for simplification of power of attorney process

Picture of Baroness Trumpington for Your Expert Witness storyThe process of granting power of attorney has become “unnecessarily expensive and time-consuming”, according to Baroness Trumpington (pictured).

Speaking during Lords Questions on 11 November, the Conservative Peer was challenging an assertion by Justice Minister Lord McNally that the government had reduced the fee for the granting of lasting power of attorney and was trialling an online process.

She had posed the question: “…what steps [the Government] will take to make it easier to nominate a power of attorney.”

Last Updated on Tuesday, 12 November 2013 18:45

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MPs call for stronger protection of intellectual property

Picture of Shakespeare from Wikipedia for Your Expert Witness storyThe Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee has warned that what it calls the “extraordinary success” of the UK’s creative industries may be jeopardised by any dilution of intellectual property rights and the failure to tackle online piracy. The committee also “strongly condemns” the failure of search engine companies – naming Google in particular – to tackle access of copyright infringing websites.

The MPs said that online piracy, combined with proposals arising from the Hargreaves review to introduce copyright exceptions and a failure to strengthen copyright enforcement along the lines envisaged by the Digital Economy Act 2010, threaten the livelihoods of the individuals and industries that together contribute over £36bn annually to the UK economy and stated that it “cannot be allowed to happen”.

Last Updated on Saturday, 28 September 2013 10:41

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MPs highlight failings in mental health services

Photo of Stephen Dorrell for Your Expert Witness storyA committee of MPs has found that more needs to be done to protect the interests of patients who rely on mental health services.

The House of Commons Health Committee has undertaken a review of the 2007 Mental Health Act and found that, in the words of its chair Stephen Dorrell MP, “many vital safeguards are not working effectively.”

Summarising the review, Mr Dorrell (pictured) said: “In 2007 the Government legislated changes to the Mental Health legislation and introduced new ‘Deprivation of Liberty Safeguards’ (DOLS) to protect patients who lack mental capacity – typically patients who suffer from dementia or severe learning difficulties.”

Those provisions are not working well, he said, and are often ignored.

“The current approach to these vital safeguards is profoundly depressing and complacent and the Government must immediately instigate a review which details an action plan for improvement.”

The committee’s inquiry also found that many mental health patients have difficulties in accessing hospital treatment, to the extent that some staff were resorting to sectioning to obtain a bed.

Said Mr Dorrell: “Many psychiatric wards are over capacity and there is huge pressure on beds; nevertheless, we were shocked to learn that there is evidence that patients who need hospital treatment are being sectioned unnecessarily in order to access a bed. This represents a serious violation of patients’ basic rights and it is never acceptable for patients to be subjected to compulsory detention unless it is clinically necessary.

“A clinician who is complicit in this approach has compromised their professional obligations; both the professional regulators and the Government should urgently investigate the prevalence of this practice within the mental health system.”

A further cause for concern was the effectiveness of Community Treatment Orders (CTOs), which were also introduced by the 2007 Act and enable patients to be treated in the community, while still being subject to recall to hospital if their condition deteriorates.

Last Updated on Friday, 20 September 2013 08:58

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MoJ denies court privatisation plan

Photo of Justice Secretary Chris Grayling for Your Expert Witness storyIn the latest in a series of letters to the judiciary, the Justice Secretary Chris Grayling, the Lord Chief Justice Lord Judge and the senior president of tribunals Sir Jeremy Sullivan have stressed that HM Courts and Tribunals Service will not be ‘sold’ off to a private company with shareholders, but that options for change include the possibility of it being taken over by a ‘public interest corporation’.

In the letter the three state: “The examination of options is considering, for example, whether the current structures could be transformed, or whether an alternative structure, such as a more independent public interest corporation, would better ensure a sustainable future. Whatever model is eventually put forward for consideration, the only options which will be considered will be consistent with constitutional principle.”

That constitutional principle means, says the letter, that: “The provision of justice is and will remain a core function of the State. The Lord Chancellor is, and will continue to be, responsible by statute for the provision of an efficient and effective system to support the administration of justice.”

They continue: “We are all committed to ensuring that vital constitutional safeguards (including access to justice, the rule of law, the independence of the judiciary, and the preservation of the position of the Lord Chief Justice) are maintained.”

There had been criticism following previous correspondence that a plan to privatise the courts was under consideration, a plan denied by the three correspondents.

“We are not and will not be exploring any options which will involve shareholders, the making of a profit or surplus or contracting out or profit making on the basis of judicial and linked administrative functions, other than for the exclusive purpose of investing any surplus into the administration of justice,” the letter says. “No replacement organisation for HMCTS would be contemplated unless it was a body operated solely in the public interest.”

Shadow Justice Secretary Sadiq Khan is quoted in the Law Society Gazette as saying he was pleased that Mr Grayling had reconsidered his “half-baked” plans to privatise the courts service.

“Our justice system only survives on the confidence of the public, and any future model must enshrine the independence of the system if this confidence is to be maintained,” he said. “It was barmy to even consider introducing profit-making and privatisation into our courts as this would have dangerously skewed the system from its reputation for being unbiased and independent.”

Last Updated on Sunday, 28 July 2013 16:26