The disastrous Sentencing Bill has exposed the government’s disregard for victims - women and girls in particular
Labour has set out our own Victims’ Bill for the government to accept, enshrining victims’ rights and protections into law for the very first time.
Becoming a victim of crime is a traumatic experience. According to the charity Victim Support, common after-effects include strong emotions of anger, upset and self-blame, physical symptoms (including a lack of sleep), and long-term problems such as anxiety and depression. These effects are not limited to the victim, but often extend to their family and loved ones; people who just want help, and for justice to be served.
Yet after a decade of Conservative mismanagement, our criminal justice system offers victims and their families anything but. The backlog in Crown Courts is now at an all-time record high of 56,000 cases. Victims are being asked to wait up to four years to get to court, with an increasing proportion of victims dropping out of the process altogether (trebling since 2015).
Meanwhile, government promises to support victims have rung hollow. A Victims Bill has been promised in three manifestos, and an end-to-end review of rape prosecutions was launched in 2019. Neither have yet been published.
The situation for women who are victims of crime is even worse. In the past decade, 1,425 women have been murdered, with 144,000 women becoming victims of rape or attempted rape last year alone. Despite these shocking statistics, only 1.4% of reported rapes led to a charge last year. No wonder only 1 in 7 rape survivors believed they would receive justice in a recent survey conducted by the Victims’ Commissioner.
In a country where flytipping can result in a sentence higher than stalking, the Sentencing Bill was a chance to secure meaningful reform - all the more important given the tragic death of Sarah Everard last week.
Rather than an ambitious set of measures to improve victims’ rights and protect women, the government’s Bill risks becoming an abusers’ charter
Labour have been proactive in offering the solutions required. We have called on the government to increase minimum sentences for rapists and stalkers and review sentences for domestic homicide; to introduce a street harassment law and Whole Life Orders for those found guilty of abduction, sexual assault and murder of a stranger; and to make misogyny a hate crime.
Labour has set out our own Victims’ Bill for the government to accept, enshrining victims’ rights and protections into law for the very first time. My colleague Ellie Reeves has also introduced an ambitious Survivors’ Support Plan, with rape and sexual assault cases fast-tracked through court, pre- and post-trial support for survivors, and the introduction of a minister for survivors of rape and sexual violence.
Instead, the government has chosen to divide the country. Disproportionate controls have been introduced on the right to protest, alongside changes that could result in harsher penalties for damaging a statue than attacking a woman. In fact, in the 296-page Bill the word ‘women’ doesn’t appear once.
Rather than an ambitious set of measures to improve victims’ rights and protect women, the government’s Bill risks becoming an abusers’ charter that doesn’t reflect the current trends in crime. Nothing on protecting women and girls from harassment or assault; nothing to tackle the terrible rise in children being forced to commit crimes by adults.
After a decade of failure, time is up for the government. Labour will oppose the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Court Bill. The government must start again, and work with Labour to secure the changes to the criminal justice system that victims across the country, and women in particular, desperately need.
Peter Kyle is the Labour MP for Hove and shadow minister for victims and youth justice.
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