Tuesday, 1 October 2013

The Labour Party Conference - Speech of Sadiq Khan MP

October is with us and it is Conference time for the political parties.  In his conference speech on 25th September, Sadiq Khan MP (Shadow Secretary of State for Justice), spoke of the need for confidence in the criminal justice system so that, for example, more people are encouraged to report crime and come forward as witnesses.  Victims were a key point in his speech and Labour would enhance the role of the Victims' Commissioner and sweep away 'worthless codes of practice' replacing them with an Act dealing with the rights of victims and witnesses - (see The Guardian 30th September - Witnesses tell of feeling abandoned and uninformed ).  Khan was not specific as to which codes were 'worthless.'  Presumably he meant codes such as the Code of Practice for Victims of Crime

Khan was particularly condemnatory
of privatisation of the probation service.  He saw the present government's privatisation policy as rewarding failure by giving lucrative contracts to companies which, he claimed, have failed to deliver in other areas of work.   (No doubt a reference to matters such as the London Olympic Games security debacle - Telegraph 12th July 2012).  

He referred to criminal injuries compensation - 'What happens when you slash compensation for innocent victims of crime?  I’ll tell you what happens.  The losers are people suffering permanent brain injuries and fractured joints through no fault of their own.'   Regrettably, there were no details in the speech about what changes Labour would make to the criminal injuries compensation scheme.

There were other similar references such as those on indeterminate sentences, effect of guilty pleas, cutting back judicial review and legal aid.  More detail of Labour's plans would have been welcome though, in fairness to Khan, there could be political merit in not revealing all one's hand.

Here are some quotations from the speech:

'What do you get when you abolish indeterminate sentences?  You weaken public protection against the most serious and violent offenders.'  

What happens if you give half off sentences for guilty pleas?  You insult victims, who think the system is too tame on criminals.

What happens when you cut back judicial review?  You betray bereaved families, like the Hillsborough campaigners, who can’t challenge terrible decisions.

What’s the outcome of cutting legal aid?  The family of Jean Charles De Menezes, the innocent Brazilian man shot at Stockwell tube station would no longer have access to expert lawyers in the future.

Nor indeed the Gurkhas or the Lawrence family.

It’ll be harder for victims of domestic violence to break away from abusive partners.

And what if the Conservatives succeed in their clamour to abolish human rights laws?

There’d be less protection for victims of crime.

Nor indeed the Gurkhas or the Lawrence family.

It’ll be harder for victims of domestic violence to break away from abusive partners.

And what if the Conservatives succeed in their clamour to abolish human rights laws?

There’d be less protection for victims of crime.

We’d lose:

  • Laws that halted the diabolical situation of rape victims being cross-examined directly by their attackers.

  • Laws that helped bereaved families find out how loved ones died.

  • Laws that offer protection against the grotesqueness of modern day slavery, human trafficking.

Human rights laws the Tories want to scrap.

Human rights laws of which Labour is proud.

Human rights laws Labour will defend.'


Observations:


I offer a cautious welcome to Khan's brief speech.  It is good to hear that Labour will defend 'human rights laws' and Khan was correct in pointing to some of the improvements to the law which have come about because of the way in which the Human Rights Act 1998 integrated the European Convention on Human Rights into domestic law.  However, a much stronger defence will be required against the present onslaught on justice from the Conservative Party.

There is no doubt at all that the present government's policies on legal aid and judicial review are regressive and will work immense injustice.  Indeed, they are already doing so.  The present government's changes to applications for judicial review are largely procedural and could be reversed or changed relatively easily by a government minded to do so.  The same cannot entirely be said about the cuts to legal aid though any incoming government would do well to review the state of legal aid and address any areas where the Coalition reforms have created serious injustice.  Addressing such areas would require funding and Labour do not appear to be making it clear that funding WILL be made available again for legal aid.

Time is limited at conferences and speeches have to be kept short.  The fuller views of Mr Khan can perhaps be  gleaned from his many other speeches - Sadiq Khan Speeches.  

Legal Career

Prior to becoming the MP for Tooting, Sadiq was a Human Rights solicitor and was a founding partner of a firm specialising in human rights law. In his final year of practising law he was listed as one of the county's leading lawyers in two separate categories of law in the Chambers and Partners directory 2004-05 (Human Rights and Police law).

He has acted in a number of landmark cases in all major Courts (including the European Court of Human Rights, House of Lords, Court of Appeal), and Tribunals. Prior to being an MP, he wrote, lectured and appeared in the media on a range of issues. He co-authored Police Misconduct: Legal Remedies (LAG 4th edition 2005) and Challenging Racism; Using the Human Rights Act (Lawrence and Wishart 2003).

Sadiq was Chair of Liberty (NCCL) for 3 years and Vice Chair of Legal Action Group (LAG) for a number of years. He has advised a number of the country's major voluntary and community groups.

Sadiq has been a visiting lecturer at the University of North London and London Metropolitan University, and is a former governor of South Thames FE College.


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