Everyday Victim Blaming

challenging institutional disbelief around domestic & sexual violence and abuse

No Keir, we don’t need a Victims’ Law

Introduction

On 3rd February 2014, Sir Keir Starmer announced that what the Criminal Justice System really needed was a Victims’ Law. Anyone who blogs can feel his frustration at not being listened to when we have the answers. If only he had been in a position to do something about this in the last five years or so, the world might be a different place eh?

But anyway, he points to the difficulties (that undoubtedly exist) in the prosecution of offences of personal or sexual violence and states that it is not a question of individual failing, but a systemic one. He’s right, but he’s giving the wrong answer.

What is a Victims’ Law? 

He is remarkably short on detail – “What is needed is a fundamental rethink, leading to a specific and legally enforceable Victims’ Law”. That’s it, no more details.

Keir rightly says that victims have a lot to gain from the ECHR, much more so in fact than defendants (he neglects to mention the unfortunate case of Waxman which confirms this). He distinguishes the Victims Code (we still haven’t had the response to the consultation, five months down the line, or any idea how it’s working) so it’s not that. Neither is it Victim Impact Personal Impact Statements (their efficacy as yet unproved) or specialist prosecutors (ditto).

So what does he actually want?

What he seems to be proposing, ultimately, is an inquisitorial rather than an adversarial system. That is not a new law but a complete overhaul of the way that Court proceedings have been conducted in this country for 400 years.

I am (perhaps surprisingly) not as wedded to the adversarial system as many are. I can see its faults as well as the advantages. But switching to an inquisitorial system is not a ‘Victims’ Law’, it is a completely different and much more fundamental debate. If you want to propose a switch to a European style justice system, be my guest, but good luck arguing that at the moment.

It also does involve the state doing some investigating which seems to have gone out of fashion at the moment.

What is wrong with his proposal?

Well, apart from it not being clear what he’s actually saying, there is a wider problem with the system here, and that is that it is fundamentally under-resourced. You can have all the policies in the world, as well as a shiny set of Procedure Rules, but if they’re not followed then where does it get you? Giving victim’s rights may or may not be a good idea, but a right is pretty useless if you can’t effectively enforce it.

I would hope in the high profile cases (such as the Yewtree ones) things are done properly. They most certainly aren’t in the majority of cases. I agree that this is not the fault of individuals, but basic maths. If you want to help victims, fund the CPS properly.

Have a case lawyer for each case. Listen to what victims want by way of support, rather than have a one size fits all policy. Make sure all directions of the Court are complied with so that no case is adjourned because of a failure to complete disclosure or serve evidence. Give each case a fixture, so a victim knows when they have to come to court. Don’t cut compensation for victims of crime. Don’t cut legal aid in family cases so victims of domestic violence (overwhelmingly female) with children get a proper service from ‘the system’. Keep all courtrooms open and make sure that there are enough jurors so cases get heard quickly. The list can go on and on.

All these things would help. All however take money, which is why they are not being done. Far easier to have a policy or protocol (or even a new law) which promises much, fails to deliver, and doesn’t cost much.

The truth is that many politicians (the ranks of which are probably shortly to be joined by Sir Keir) don’t care at all about victims, they just care about looking like they care about victims.

Conclusion

The Victims’ Code is a good example. As stated, we don’t know how it’s working (or not), but I get the impression from what I see in Court that it is having a very small impact. The process is complicated and has been introduced to comply with our obligations under EU Law. What advice and support does a victim get in helping challenge a decision? As far as I can see, none. To that extent, how useful is it? This appears to be a typical new initiative – all words and no actual action.

I would, however, wholeheartedly agree with Sir Keir’s statement that “can I advocate a pause in the oft-repeated mantra that we have the best criminal justice system in the world?”. This is not just the way that complainants are treated, but also witnesses,workers and, most importantly, defendants. We have a system that is falling apart and that is something that urgently needs addressing. Passing a Victims’ Law will do nothing to help that however.

This post was first published here - thanks to author for permission to cross post.

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2 thoughts on “No Keir, we don’t need a Victims’ Law

  • Hecuba says:

    Keir Starmer was for a number of years Director of Crown Prosecution Service and yet during his years in this post he has learned nothing concerning how and why Mens’ Male Supremacist Legal System continues to put female victims of male sexual violence on trial.

    One wonders if Starmer has been living on another planet given there is a wealth of feminist academic research on the subject of how and why female victims of male sexual violence continue to be put on trial.

    Instead Starmer calls for a ‘Victim’s Law’ but what this constitutes Starmer does not elaborate. Instead Starmer believes all victims are the same meaning they are all males and it is the male lived experience which is the supposedly default human experience. Womens’ lived experiences are not identical to mens.

    Let me enlighten you Starmer concerning what needs to be radically changed in order for female victims of male sexual violence not to be routinely put through a second or even a third trauma.

    Female victims when giving evidence in court are denied the right of giving detailed answers when cross examined by defence barristers. Defence barristers know the easiest way to discredit a female victim of male sexual violence is by asking her irrelevant and degrading questions concerning her sexual history; medical history; family history; personal life because all of this can be used to show to jury she is a ‘slut’ not a real ‘mythical female rape victim.’ Defence barristers routinely put closed questions to the female witness and this ensures the female witness can only say ‘yes or no’ and she cannot explain why she acted in a certain way; why she didn’t fight back etc. etc.

    Female victims are denied right of legal representation because the alleged sexual violence committed against them is supposedly against the state! This means she is denied right of discussing her case with the Crown Prosecution Barrister. The CPS Barrister knows nothing about her apart from police statements. However, male defendants are accorded limitless access to their defence barrister(s) prior to commencement of trial which gives the male ample time to prepare his defence.

    Female victims have to answer intimate irrelevant questions concerning their sexual history but male defendants are not routinely cross-examined by Crown Prosecution Barrister concerning his sexual history; medical history; life style etc.

    Female victims cannot refute/rebutt claims made by defence barrister concerning her character because she is denied right of producing her own character witnesses. Male defendants have right of producing character witnesses who supposedly know the male defendant is an ‘upright respectable man because his public personae is what constitutes his ‘creditability.’

    In cases wherein one or more male defendants are charged with male sexual violence against the female victim, this means the female victim has to be cross-examined by multiple defence barristers and the cross examination commonly lasts a number of days. The same questions are asked by defence barrister in the hope the female victim will become confused and contradict herself.

    Why is the issue of Expert Witnesses in rape trials no longer an issue? Expert witnesses can educate the jury as to what exactly constitutes rape/male sexual violence against women and girls as well as educating the jury that ‘the mythical real female victim does not exist.’ Expert witnesses could educate the jury that it is common for female victims of male sexual violence not to have photographic memories wherein they can immediately recall every minute irrelevant detail concerning their experience of being subjected to rape/male sexual violence by the male defendant.

    For too long men in political and/or legal power have ‘pulled the wool’ over womens’ eyes by claiming ‘look we’ve instigated changes within rape trials and these changes include providing screens for female victims; examination of female witness via video; providing sexual assault Advocates to the female victim. None of which alters one iota how the rape trial is conducted or removes the fact it is the female victim on trial not the male defendant.

    Not until such time as the above radical changes are implemented will female victims be accorded their right to justice. But mens’ Male Supremacist Legal System is not about justice – rather it is about winning and because the legal system created by men for men’s benefit this means womens’ experiences of male sexual violence continue to have to try and be fitted into a male definition of what constitutes the ‘real female rape victim’ rather than womens’ lived experiences of what it means to be subjected to male sexual violence in a world wherein male sexual violence against women is pandemic!

    Finally female victims of male sexual violence are not ‘vulnerable witnesses.’ The term ‘vulnerable’ serves to pathologise the brave women and girls who do hold their male sexual predators accountable. These women and girls are not ‘vulnerable’ when they stand up in open court and have to answer degrading questions put to them by defence barristers knowing that they have no right to challenge the defence barrister. Some women do and they are immediately reprimanded by the judge because women must not rebutt defence barristers’ claims put to them. Female victims are expected to be passive and meekly answer questions – not challenge the male defence barrister.

    Carnal Knowledge by Sue Lees analyses how rape trials are conducted and the common methods Defence Barristers deploy to ensure the female victim is discredited.

    Rape and The Legal Process by Jennifer Tempkin analyses how mens’ legal system operates concerning male sexual violence against women and girls.

    Sexual Assault and the Justice Gap by Jennifer Tempkin analyses how and why dominant male created rape myths continue to be widely accepted within the male dominant legal profession as truths. This book also examines how the public uncritically accept mens’ lies that women are innate liars seeking revenge against innocent men and how all these lies serve to maintain male bias within mens’ legal system.

  • Nicole says:

    I’m glad I wasn’t the only one who wondered what he meant by a victims law and wondered where the detail was! C’mon Keir if this is the answer please tell us how/why/what/when as we certainly need a big shift sometime soon.