Thank you to everyone who wrote to me about ending violence against women and girls (VAWG).
Protecting and defending women from violence and discrimination is one of the main reasons I entered politics, which is why I am immensely proud that Keir Starmer has made it his mission to halve instances of VAWG in a decade. And it’s also why I’m proud to be backing Labour’s ending violence against women and girls green paper, our blueprint for the action we will take if elected to government.
Achieving that mission will be a hugely difficult task, but I will leave no stone unturned to banish this scourge from society. That’s why, at this year’s Labour Party Conference, I announced in my conference speech my own plans as Shadow Attorney General to review ways in which the law continues to let women down, with a focus on stalking, cohabitation rights for unmarried couples, and whistleblower protections for women who report sexual harassment at work. And it’s also why I have been regularly challenging the government on their appalling failure to take crimes like rape and stalking seriously.
Constituents are right to be sounding the alarm about appalling court backlogs, and the terrible impact this is having on the victims of sexual violence. Every day I see the impact of a government that has wilfully allowed our criminal justice system to collapse, with charge rates so low for even some of the most serious crimes, including rape, that those responsible enjoy something close to impunity.
And on the rare occasion a suspect is charged, court backlogs mean victims can wait years for justice. Last year we discovered that for the first time a typical rape case is now taking more than a thousand days from the original offence to the completion of the case. Sadly, in many of these cases justice delayed literally means justice denied, because even the most rock-solid cases collapse because victims and witnesses cannot deal with the disruption and trauma of having to wait so long for their day in court.
Yet the government continues to refuse to take this crisis seriously – instead of getting a grip they just blame the pandemic, when we all know the situation was grave long before anyone had heard of coronavirus. Even more alarming is the spectre of further austerity thanks to the Tories’ disastrous economic mismanagement when we both know that when it comes to justice everything has already been cut to the bone.
So, we urgently need to do something, which is why Shabana Mahmood, Labour’s shadow Justice Secretary, has set out a series of the practical changes we would make to tackle this problem head on, including pledging to open specialist rape courts to prioritise victims of sexual violence. And as Shadow Attorney General I’ve also announced a proposal to speed up justice, by allowing the 127 legal executives – every one of them an experienced criminal law specialist – to be allowed to manage criminal cases in Magistrates’ Courts, something they are currently forbidden from doing by law.
We can and must do more to ensure women are able to live their lives free from harassment, discrimination, and violence, and that when they do fall victim to such appalling crimes, the perpetrators are swiftly brought to justice. So please rest assured that I will continue to do all I can to stand up for women’s rights and for women’s safety.