Charlie Falconer on Labour’s plans for amending the justice aspects of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill
The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, which has its’ second reading in the Lords this week, is a huge piece of legislation, and a real opportunity to make positive changes to the criminal justice system to ensure it works for everyone. The government, however, has presented a bill that does more to protect statues than women, does nothing to better victims’ experience of the criminal justice system and imposes draconian restrictions on our freedoms.
Labour wants to see the courts fast-track cases of rape and we will be calling on the government to roll out section 28 procedures to also include ‘intimidated witnesses’ – as defined by section 17 of the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act. This would allow all victims of rape and serious sexual offences to have their evidence recorded and cross examined prior to trial. A simple measure that would improve the accuracy of their testimony and relieve the extreme stress that is sometimes caused while awaiting a court date.
All Crown Courts in England and Wales already have the equipment installed to make this happen, and rape victims could be giving their evidence already. Instead, it takes years for them to have their day in court, with some being told the trial won’t be until 2023. Meanwhile, the government’s rape review has only promised further piecemeal pilots for the section 28 rollout. The lack of urgency is just not good enough.
We also plan to introduce an amendment calling for custodial sentences for those who name victims of sexual assault. Rape victims have a right to anonymity (unless they have specifically chosen to waive that right) but current sentencing is failing to act as a deterrent. The maximum penalty is a fine, with one rapist, Phillip Leece told to pay just £120 for breaching the anonymity of his victim. There are countless examples of perpetrators – as well as their friends and family – doing this, including through social media, and as a result causing further trauma.
Labour will be looking to table an amendment to protect victims of sexual offences by increasing the maximum sentence for publishing the identity of a sexual offences’ complainant. The current maximum fine on summary conviction is £5,000 but we would increase the power available to judges so sentence an offender to up to two years in prison.
After the tragic death of Sarah Everard, now is the time to put in place long overdue protections for women and girls against unacceptable violence. Not just action against domestic homicides, rape, and street harassment, but also to tackle misogynistic attitudes that underpin the abuse women face.
A decade plus of government cuts to the police and justice system has left rapists and other violent criminals on our streets and in our communities. Instead of trying to divide our country by obsessing about protections for statues and clamping down on the right to protest, the government should be better addressing its responsibility for keeping the public safe.
Lord Falconer is the Shadow Attorney General and Shadow Justice spokesman for the House of Lords. He tweets @LordCFalconer
Published 13th September 2021