Victims Are Not Getting Justice, says Law Chief
The liberal legal establishment has been condemned by the Director of Public Prosecutions for its patronising attitude towards the public and victims of crime. Ken Macdonald, QC, head of the Crown Prosecution Service, said that elitist attitudes had helped to break the bond of trust between the public and the criminal justice system. In an extraordinary warning, he said that the country would enter dangerous territory if the public felt that justice was not being delivered by the courts.
Mr Macdonald also called for a move away from the position held by many lawyers that only the defendants’ rights matter. Greater emphasis should be given to the rights of victims and witnesses, he said. “Few sounds are less attractive than well-educated lawyers patronising vulnerable victims of crime with inflexible platitudes.”
The speech has been made public as new figures show that while 80 per cent of people think that the justice system is fair to the accused, only 36 per cent are confident that it meets the needs of victims. It also comes after a series of highprofile killings by criminals released from jail on parole.
Mr Macdonald said that in some cases the victims of crime had been treated as “pariahs” by the system and witnesses were handled in an appalling manner. The DPP added: “The perception that no one looks out for them and that it’s only defendants whose rights are taken seriously is not wildly wrong.”
He said that there had to be fairness for both victims of crime and suspects: “The view that only defendants’ rights matter, still quite commonly held by many criminal lawyers, appears to me to be a fundamentalist position that we should move away from.
“My own view is that liberal commentators need to start by acknowledging that the public have a point. The service given to victims and witnesses has traditionally been appalling.”
The speech is Mr Macdonald’s most controversial since he became director three years ago. Made in May at a seminar organised by the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies at King’s College London, and passed to The Times, it will provide useful ammunition for the Government, which announced plans to rebalance the criminal justice system in favour of the law-abiding majority last month.
Mr Macdonald said that the old-fashioned idea that thecriminal justice system sits above the public and consists of principles and practices beyond popular influence or argument was “elitist and obscurantist”.
David Blunkett, the former Home Secretary, had seen the need for a democratic element to criminal justice which, while not slipping into “vigilanteeism, serves to temper an increasingly dangerous disconnect between our people as a whole and the traditional judicial and practitioner establishment”, Mr Macdonald said.
He added: “If people, including victims, feel they cannot secure justice through the courts, we are entering dangerous territory”.
The speech, which was given to an audience of lawyers and criminologists, will provoke anger among many lawyers, particularly those representing suspects, and it will raise suspicions that Mr Macdonald wishes to water down traditional legal safeguards for defendants. But in it he insisted that the principles of jury trial, presumption of innocence, a right to appeal and full disclosure of the state’s case were all non-negotiable.
Last night Richard Garside, acting director of the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies, said: “It is important that we make a distinction between a legal system treating people with respect and a defendant whose guilt has still to be proved.”
John Cooper, a leading criminal law barrister, said: “The fundamental of a trial in the criminal justice system is the analysis of facts and evidence to decide if the prosecution have proved their case.
“It is not, and never should be, an arena where victims primarily undertake a cathartic exercise for the allegation that is tested at the trial.”