THERESA MAY’s government is not the first to announce supposed new powers, and rights, for victims of crime in order to court public opinion and mask its political difficulties.
Successive premiers have done so since Tony Blair promised two decades ago to put victims at the heart of the criminal justice agenda. Yet, despite this, they can still be treated like second class citizens by those who are supposed to be helping them.
They’re invariably the last to be informed when an offender – the person responsible for the heartache suffered by victims and their families – is due to be released from custody. Yet, while Justice Secretary David Gauke, responding to the public outcry over the now notorious case of black cab rapist John Worboys, wants victims of the most serious crimes to have the right to lobby the Parole Board when an offender is being considered for release, he has to demonstrate that this system can work in practice. What does he propose if, for example, a rape victim is ignored after going through the trauma of reliving their ordeal?
As such, this reform also needs to coincide with a fundamental overhaul of sentencing protocols so the courts are compelled to make clear the minimum – and maximum – jail term that a criminal can expect to serve. Such transparency will make it easier for victims, the most important people here, to understand the vagaries of the judicial system and, at the same time, reassure the country that Mr Gauke is not guilty, like so many of his predecessors, of gesture politics over an issue which needs to be treated with the utmost urgency, respect and sensitivity.