Written 10th January 2014 by Olliers Solicitors

The former Chief Prosecutor Sir Keir Starmer QC has said that the justice system in England and Wales ‘is not fit for purpose for victims’. In a televised interview he said that the legal system had developed over 200 years as a straight fight between the prosecution and defence ‘and nobody thought about the rights of victims until very recently’.

He commented:

“The more vulnerable you are as a victim, the less able the criminal justice system is to protect you.”

He added that lack of faith in the system meant many victims of domestic and sexual violence “simply don’t come forward”.

Crown Prosecution Service

Sir Keir said improvements have been made during his five years as head of the Crown Prosecution Service to help victims of crime and he specially referred to his efforts to ‘change the approach’ both prosecutors and Police took to dealing with suspected cases of child sexual abuse. Additionally, he referred to action taken following the Jimmy Savile scandal to ensure victims were not ‘let down’ in the way that they were at the time of Savile’s many sex offences.

However, he warned that the current system could not take further cuts to its funding. He commented that the budget of the Crown Prosecution Service had been reduced by 27.5% during his time as Chief Prosecutor, with a further 5.5% cut due to come in 2015-16.

He commented:

“There will come a point where really no further cuts can be sustained and I think we’re very, very close to that point.”

Budget Cuts

In discussing the budget cuts, Sir Keir said the only way to make any further cuts would be to change the ‘way we run the system’, for example, by reducing the volume of cases dealt with in court. He suggested that there were lots of minor cases going to magistrates’ courts which ‘simply don’t need to be there’, such as cases where people plead guilty by post to minor offences and the person being sentenced is not required to attend.

The Government do, however, appear to be taking steps to address this with dedicated traffic courts being established across England and Wales. The move will mean low-level traffic offences, including speeding, traffic light, mobile phone and no insurance offences, can all be dealt with at one local Magistrates’ Court.

Zita Spencer

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