Anyone who read The Times interview of Javed Khan CEO of Victim Support might be right in thinking he has become a paid instrument of the State. I respect Javed’s tireless work and all that he does, greatly. However his comments about barristers grandstanding to get the next big case, as in the 13 year old described by the CPS barrister as being sexually predatory, are not worthy of him. I have my views on sexualised 13 year olds but this isn’t the place.
Few criminal defence barristers I know fit that description, very few of the most venal CPS counsel can be described in this way. I know very many personally and through my work with women ex offenders and women going through DV. I know many through my own journey in the labyrinthine criminal justice system.
The problem lies in our adversarial system which effectively robs the victim of his voice. It becomes just another squeaky wheel in the machinery of the dispensation of arbitrary justice by men in wigs and red polyester robes. Regina, upholder of justice and defender of the faith infantilises the victim and assumes his identity in the statement of the case. Regina versus the defendant. Where’s the named victim? Lost in a lever arch file of statements.
Victims feel denied any stakeholdership or identity in the process therefore vengeance and retribution remain, with no recourse. This is an inherent flaw in our system and until we change this to something more progressive like restorative justice I’m afraid the sense of justice denied will pervade.
I went to prison for my crimes (fraud and one count of perverting the course of justice). Nothing was gained by anyone as a result of my 3 and a half year sentence, except a hefty bill to the taxpayer. I didn’t feel sorry about anything. When I was convicted again for charges relating to housing benefit, I was in fact a victim of domestic violence. No one wanted to address this and I was advised to plead guilty and suffer the leniency of the court.
Victim impact statements are written pro forma by rushed police officers or victim support staff in police stations. They still don’t allow the victim a voice. It’s the language of barriers and silos, us and them. Society is an interconnected whole, each and every action affects each and every one of us. The victim and the offender are joined in the weft and the weave of community and society. The crime binds them. Until each is allowed to own and process their individual part, to grieve the loss and the brokeness, without the expensive interference of the state, Regina, whoever, there can be no resolution. Recently I’ve been the “victim” of some bone chilling texts and emails from the ex partner of a man I’ve started seeing recently. I have complained to the police over 10 days ago. I’m still waiting for them to follow up from the initial complaint. I am angry and hurt.
In 2007 when I was released, I had the opportunity to contact most of the people I had harmed and hurt and that process, of owning what I did, making restitution to their sense of personal loss and betrayal and for the most part, their graciousness in extending compassion and forgiveness has guided my actions ever since.
It probably helped my “victims” to move on greatly, that I could express sorrow for my actions and that by their grace, I could re-biography my criminal acts and own my actions and change. No angry, taunting, headline hungry, finger wagging, despotic red faced judge could change my behaviour, no matter what names he called me (highly manipulative and very dangerous, women from my privileged background should just know better, according to the good man of God, Judge John Samuels, my sentencing judge at Blackfriars Crown Court).
Desistance is the process whereby a person shifts his identity, away from one of committing crimes to one of being a law abiding citizen. In my life it’s taken the love and support of countless people from my probation officer who believed in me when my courage was shattered to being privileged to know and call upon as friends people like Imran Khan, Flo Krause, Lord Carlile and Michael Turner who are tireless defenders of justice and take on cases no one else will ever touch, in the pursuit of the truth. These are not people who need to make a big show to get a next big case. Until there’s parity the the criminal and the victim’s experience of the system, this pathological mania needing to apportion blame at the feet of barristers, the lenient system or the inadequacy of the CPS, judges and the police will continue.
I think it’s important to have a balanced view. The Justice Secretary was asked by the Commons Justice Select Committee why no view or opinion or indeed any impact statement was expressed by victims in the recent consultation on the proposed cuts of £200m in the legal aid budget. He paused, obviously caught wrong footed and stated all that victims wanted was a decent criminal justice system that would bring about punishment to perpetrators of crimes. He didn’t see the need for an expensive impact assessment from victims of crime.
This is all available on Hansard the last time in June Grayling was called to appear in front of the committee.
Let me tell you that this is very misleading. You can see the full “debate” between my friend Michael Turner QC the elected chairman of the Criminal Bar Association and Grayling in yesterday’s Sunday Mirror (Grayling refuses to see Michael Turner QC in person) here
If these drastic further cuts to justice are implemented, women who have suffered DV will not have access to legal aid unless they can evidence their physical wounds. Parents wanting to bring a local authority to judicial review for failing to provide a special needs statement for a dyslexic child would be denied legal aid to the point a single judge agreed the claim was with merit and they would personally incur costs of at least £100 000 in order to bring a case. That precludes most Times readers from ever bringing a case for judicial review.
The family of Jimmy Mubenga who was killed by G4S guards would not have been able to access legal aid to bring about a coroner’s inquest.
A child less than a year old, the subject of a custody battle would have no independent legal representative paid for by legal aid to determine is best interests.
It’s this decimation of the tenets of justice which the Justice Secretary is determined to drag through, in spite of opposition from leading judges, treasury solicitors, the CPS and senior advocates who have been elected to represent their profession like Michael Turner QC, which threatens to deny all victims justice and indeed make us all victims of the cheapened system in a cry for cuts which are a false economy.
It is drastically urgent that we all assess the impact of the proposed cuts to legal aid upon victims, not as barristers looking for a next big case but as determined and concerned professionals who care greatly about the practise of justice rather than the concept as described by our Lord Chancellor. Grayling has never sat through a publicly funded criminal trail and doesn’t understand the impact of his half baked hare brained proposals.
As someone who has been on the receiving end of the blunt instruments of justice, I urge victims to take a stand and oppose any further cuts to our world class criminal justice defence system.