Starmer takes Labour adviser role
Former director of public prosecutions will advise Labour on renewing the rights of victims in the justice system.
Keir Starmer, the former director of public prosecutions, is to take a leading role in advising the Labour party on transforming the rights of victims in the criminal justice system.
In what is being seen as the first tentative step towards a parliamentary career with the Labour party, Starmer is to chair a taskforce that will draw up proposals for a victims’ law that would be one of the first measures introduced if Ed Miliband wins the next election.
Starmer, 51, who was named after the founder of the Independent Labour Party, Keir Hardie, indicated that he might be prepared to stand for parliament as a Labour MP.
He said: “I am back in private practice. I am gathering my breath and spending time with my kids. But I am obviously looking at a number of options.” Asked whether this could include standing for parliament, he said: “It could be.”
The former DPP said that political direction was needed to transform the experience of victims and to turn the criminal justice system into a service.
He said: “This should be seen as part of a transformation of the criminal justice system to a service. It is about re-orientating the criminal justice system and making it one that is fit for victims. Our criminal justice system is riddled with assumptions about how victims behave and most of them are misplaced. My main concern is that the more vulnerable you are as a victim or a witness the less able the criminal law is to protect you.
“We saw this as we unpicked the child sexual abuse cases – both the Rochdale grooming cases but also the [Jimmy] Savile cases. Victims did not have the confidence to come forward; when they did come forward they had all sorts of assumptions made about how they were going to behave. Then there was the journey through the courtroom itself.”
Starmer said there needed to be an “end-to-end” improvement for victims to help them from the moment a crime was committed against them – providing a better environment for them to report the offence – through to the courtroom.
“We have done a lot of bolt-ons in the last 15 years. This is about stepping back and re-orientating it. It has been nagging at me for a long time. But the more we scratched away at the child sexual abuse and the violence against women and girls – the rape and domestic violence work I did – the more concerned I became that our criminal justice system wasn’t fit for victims, particularly children and vulnerable young women.”
Starmer said that change would only be introduced with a strong political direction. “This is a political initiative by the Labour party that I am very keen to support. It chimes with my sense that in criminal justice, really strong political leadership is needed.”
The taskforce includes the Labour peer Doreen Lawrence, whose treatment by police after the murder of her teenage son Stephen led to the Macpherson report, and Peter Neyroud, former chief constable of Thames Valley police who is a Cambridge University criminologist.
Sadiq Khan MP, the shadow justice secretary, said: “Our police and our courts rely on the confidence of victims. We need them to come forward, report crimes and give evidence. But too often they are at best taken for granted and, at worst, treated with contempt. At the moment, there are a variety of codes and charters across various government agencies which are toothless, confusing and inadequate.
“Whether it’s the father of Milly Dowler treated in court like a criminal, the 13-year-old victim of sexual abuse labelled a ‘sexual predator’ by a judge, or the victim only finding out their attacker has been released from prison by bumping into them in the supermarket, our justice system is failing too many victims.
“Labour is no longer prepared to tolerate this. Victims represent some of society’s most vulnerable people. That’s why we need nothing short of a transformation if we are to deliver a criminal justice service that supports members of the public who have been innocent victims of crime through no fault of their own.
“I’m delighted that Keir Starmer has agreed to chair a taskforce to set out plans to make this happen. As former director of public prosecutions, he knows better than anyone the reforms the justice service needs in order to put victims at its heart.
“Working with Doreen Lawrence and Peter Neyroud, this taskforce will ensure we are in a position to implement a new victims’ law, as a priority of a new Labour government.”
Starmer would be the second successive DPP to pursue a political career if he stood for parliament. His immediate predecessor, Lord Macdonald of River Glaven, is a Liberal Democrat peer.