Before I became your local MP, I spent many years working in the criminal courts as a barrister, and met thousands of witnesses and victims of crime. That experience taught me a lot, so I was glad to be able to wind up a debate in the House of Commons last Thursday on the Government's new Victims' Strategy. I have written before about my work as Solicitor General in reviewing sentences in serious cases. I often conduct “unduly lenient” sentences myself in the Court of Appeal, so I continue to meet the victims of what are often very serious crimes and I can tell from their faces that the process continues to be overwhelming for them. Nothing can take away the distress and trauma of being a victim of crime, but ensuring people get the support they need as they rebuild their lives is vital.
Last month, Secretary of State for Justice, The Rt Hon David Gauke MP, announced that support for victims of crime will be overhauled following the launch of the first ever Cross-Government Victims' Strategy. I have been working very closely with the Ministry of Justice on the Victims' Strategy, which will ensure that support for victims, including those of violent offences such as terrorism and child sexual abuse, is aligned to the changing nature of crime, and services at every stage of the justice system are boosted.
The strategy makes clear the specific support victims can expect – beginning immediately after a crime, and ending long after any court proceedings. The Victims’ Strategy also serves as the next step in the delivery of the Conservative Party Manifesto commitments to establish an Independent Public Advocate for victims of public disasters and enshrine victims’ entitlements in law.
During the debate, I shared my experience of meeting the mother of a murdered child, whose then partner (not the child’s father) had perpetrated the most appalling fatal injuries on a defenceless little boy. I will never forget the relief that I could see she felt that a higher degree of justice had been done when the sentence was successfully varied by the Court of Appeal. It will never leave me. I think that such experiences are particularly powerful when one is in the court environment, at the coalface, seeing them for oneself. That is why I think it so important for the Government’s Law Officers to continue to conduct cases in person so that they can really get a sense of what is going on and can understand and hold on to that vital of experience with the victims of crime.
Some wide-ranging and extremely important points were made during the debate, which included questions about the introduction of a victims’ law. The Government has committed in the strategy to consult upon the introduction of such a law, but it is not just about rights, important though they are; it is also about getting the statutory duties that have to underpin the strategy absolutely correct in order to ensure that the expectations of victims and witnesses are fully met.
During the debate, it was noted how far we have come in terms of changing the law to respond to the needs of modern crime, in particular stalking and harassment. Clare’s law was also mentioned. It is among the many key changes that the Government have introduced to safeguard and protect those who have either been the victims of crime or who are at risk.
In my role as Solicitor General, I will continue to work closely with the Ministry of Justice to improve support for victims of crime.