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Labour considers justice shake-up

Labour will consider whether prosecutors should be stopped from questioning young and vulnerable victims in court as part of its plans for a radical shake-up of the justice system.

Sir Keir Starmer, the former chief prosecutor and now Labour's advisor on victims' issues, suggested judges could be given the task of cross-examining witnesses to prevent them from being caught between "fierce" prosecution and defence attacks.

It is one of a number of options being set out by Labour's newly launched Victims' Taskforce to give greater protections to vulnerable witnesses in court.

Today it will meet victims and justice groups to discuss possible changes to the law, should it win the next election.

Sir Keir wrote in the Guardian: "The idea that if the prosecution and defence attack each other as fiercely as possible the truth will somehow pop out has its attractions , but for particularly young and vulnerable witnesses there are obvious downsides.

"Without casting around the world for the elusive perfect criminal justice system, the taskforce will consider the extent to which it might be possible to blend the adversarial and inquisitorial systems.

"Perhaps judges should be given the task of questioning young and vulnerable witnesses?"

Other proposals to be considered include making it mandatory for those working with children to report suspicious sexual abuse and giving victims the legal right to demand a review of their case if it is dropped.

Setting up specialist clinics where victims can also get access to the criminal justice system will also be discussed.

Sir Keir wrote in the Guardian: "In supporting a victims' law, Ed Miliband and Sadiq Khan, the shadow justice secretary, have committed Labour to "a radical change in approach".

"The job of the taskforce is to put flesh on the bones of this effort. It will only succeed by tackling difficult questions and by building the best consensus possible among those with an interest in change."

Labour set up the taskforce following a number of high-profile cases where vulnerable witnesses have faced the harrowing ordeal of having to relive their experiences in detail under cross-examination in court.


From Belfast Telegraph