A Conservative government would scrap the Human Rights Act, introduce a victims’ law and take on civil liberties campaigners. In a manifeso published this morning, David Cameron promised new legislation to ‘enshrine key rights for victims’, including the right to make a personal statement and have it read in court before sentencing – and before the Parole Board decides on a prisoner’s release.
The prime minister made clear that a future Conservative government would have a robust line on civil liberties unlike other parties that ‘might be wary of causing offence’.
‘Other parties might be wary of causing offence, or of being criticised by those who see every single measure as an affront to their civil liberties. I know the threats. I have to make the judgement calls needed to tackle them. And I know this above all: our generation must fight the threat of Islamist extremism with the same resolve and tenacity as any threat Britain has faced before. Because this is the Conservative party – and we will never take risks with our nation’s security.’
In addition, the prime minister promised all vulnerable victims and witnesses greater opportunity to give evidence outside court, and vowed to roll out nationally pre-trial cross examination for child victims. Previously, Labour pledged to enact Britain’s first Victims’ Law to give victims of crime a voice and an entitlement to minimum standards of service from criminal justice agencies. Labour set up a panel of criminal justice experts that made recommendations including giving judges the power to control the cross-examination of vulnerable witnesses. The taskforce which made the recommendations includes the former director of public prosecutions Sir Keir Starmer and Labour peer and campaigner Lady Doreen Lawrence (more here).
A Conservative government would scrap the Human Rights Act and instead introduce a British Bill of Rights. This, it was argued, would break the formal link between our courts and the European Court of Human Rights, and make the Supreme Court the ultimate moderator of human rights matters in the UK. By contrast, Labour styled itself as an internationalist party in its manifesto. Ed Miliband argued that the Conservatives were damaging the interests of the public by turning their backs on Europe and said that a Labour government would seek to build alliances in Europe standing up for human rights and social justice.
Cameron pledged to work with local authorities, including the NHS and Police and Crime Commissioners to ensure a secure future for specialist FGM and forced marriage units, refuges and rape crisis centres. Similarly, Miliband promised a Violence against Women and Girls Bill, appointing a commissioner to set minimum standards in tackling domestic and sexual violence, and provide more stable central funding for refuges and Rape Crisis Centres but, in contrast, vowed to abolish Police and Crime Commissioners.
On prisons, Cameron said his party would seek to make savings by replacing old with modern larger ones and expanding payment-by-results. He also pledged to introduce widespread random testing of drug use in jails, new body scanners, greater use of mobile phone blocking technology and a new strategy to tackle corruption in prisons. The Conservatives party’s aim – to improve the UK’s response to cyber-crime with reforms to police training and an expansion in the number of volunteer ‘Cyber Specials’.
Labour promised to end the subsidy of firearms licenses, and mandate police forces to work closer together – ‘to safeguard over 10,000 police officers for the next three years’. Miliband planned to back this up by a new statutory local policing commitment ‘guaranteeing neighbourhood policing in every community’. Labour highlighted a need for prisons that both punished and rehabilitated and pledged to do more to increase the amount of time prisoners spend working and learning. Miliband promised that prisons would be measured by how successful they were in reforming prisoners and reducing their re-offending. In addition, Labour agreed to raise professional standards amongst prison officers, including through the creation of chartered prison officers, and confront the ‘neglected problem of staff corruption’.
Both main parties were light on detail when it came to legal aid. Miliband vowed to widen access to legal aid for victims of domestic violence. Labour has pledged to make sure that access to legal representation, ‘a cornerstone of our democracy’ was not determined by personal wealth. Cameron would continue reform of the legal aid systems, in order to continue to provide access to justice ‘in an efficient way’. Neither Labour nor the Conservatives focus too heavily on the issue of legal aid in their manifestos.
Miliband pledged to scrap employment tribunal fees. He accused the Conservatives of creating a significant barrier to workplace justice, by introducing fees of up to £1,200 for employment tribunal claimants. Labour promised to abolish the Government’s employment tribunal fee system. In contrast, Conservatives said they had helped small businesses by reducing the burden of employment law through its ‘successful tribunal reforms’.
The Conservatives pledge:
- To finish the job of police reform, so that the public can have more confidence that local policing teams are working effectively.
- To toughen sentencing and reform the prison system, so dangerous criminals are kept off the streets.
- To continue to review the UK’s legal aid systems.
- To support victims, so that the most vulnerable in society get the support they deserve.
- To scrap the Human Rights Act and curtail the role of the European Court of Human Rights, so that foreign criminals can be more easily deported from Britain.
- To work with local authorities, including the NHS and Police and Crime Commissioners to ensure a secure future for specialist FGM and forced marriage units, refuges and rape crisis centres.
- To enact Britain’s first Victims’ Law to give victims of crime a voice and an entitlement to minimum standards of service from criminal justice agencies.
- To reform the European Union by building alliances in Europe, promoting the country’s interests and security, and standing up for human rights and social justice.
- To publish a Violence against Women and Girls Bill, appointing a commissioner to set minimum standards in tackling domestic and sexual violence, and provide more stable central funding for women’s refuges and Rape Crisis Centres.
- To end the subsidy of firearms licenses, and mandate police forces to work closer together.
- To widen access to legal aid for victims of domestic violence.
- To scrap employment tribunal fees.
Bracken is police and crime reporter for Winchester News Online and student at the University of Winchester