Do we need a 'victims' law'?

Tuesday 30 September, 18.30 until 20.00, Hallmark Hotel, Midland Road, Derby DE1 1AA UK Satellite Events 2014

Tickets available via Eventbrite.

In recent years, victims have played an increasing role in the justice system, for example through the rise of victim statements, and all the major parties have pledged to increase their involvement further after the next election. Labour’s proposals for a new ‘victims’ law’, which would put victims at the centre of the criminal-justice system, is seen by many campaigners as a much-needed reform that will give confidence in the legal process to people suffering from violence and abuse. As the Victims’ Taskforce director, Sir Keir Starmer QC, says: ‘For many victims the adversarial journey through our courtrooms is such an ordeal that most vow never to repeat it’. Starmer argues that we need to do away with the ‘criminal-justice system’ and replace it with a criminal-justice service fit for victims.

Yet many lawyers have expressed concern about the effect a focus on victims has for the process of justice. They argue that making the perceptions and feelings of victims central to the administration of justice will bring an end to legal rights and protections for defendants that have taken centuries to win. When Baroness Stern suggests women reporting rape should be believed from the outset, does this mean the accused is guilty until proven innocent? Critics insist victims are better seen as witnesses, whose evidence needs to be cross-examined and scrutinised. The central purpose of a criminal trial is to ensure that the guilty are convicted and the innocent are acquitted; it is not to achieve ‘closure’ for victims, who may indeed not even see themselves that way. In the recent Nigel Evans case, one of those cited as a victim by the media and the Crown Prosecution Service objected: ‘I have no intention of making a complaint to the police and I am making this statement as a witness, not as a victim seeking justice.’

Nevertheless, the proposed victims’ law may seem appropriate in a society in which seven out of 10 people apparently do see themselves as victims. Is this a symptom of a more sensitive society or is it an expression of a ‘victim culture’ in which people too easily, and wrongly, see themselves as vulnerable and at risk? Is there a danger that our natural sympathy for victims has been transformed into a culture in which the voice of anyone claiming to be a victim must be heard and believed and any sceptic, even a defendant’s lawyer, must be a victimiser?


Kevin Bampton
head, Department of Law and Criminology, University of Derby

Janet Foulds
social worker, Derby City Council; former chair, British Association of Social Workers

Richard Harris
peripatetic official, NASUWT – The Teachers' Union

Barbara Hewson
barrister, Middle Temple; writer and commentator

Professor Dennis Hayes
professor of education, University of Derby

Produced by
Professor Dennis Hayes professor of education, University of Derby

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