Victim culture fosters contempt for defendants, says ex-DPP

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Dec 21, 2017
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Lord Macdonald of River Glaven said deferring to complainants as victims trampled over objectivity

A former Director of Public Prosecutions has blamed the “victim” culture that he says fosters a contempt for defendants and their rights for the recent collapse of trials after non-disclosure of evidence.

Lord Macdonald of River Glaven, QC, said that a promotion in recent years of “victims’ rights over defendants’ protections had come home to roost”. It had led to an “openly hostile attitude to suspects that borders on contempt for them and their rights”, he said. “Failure to disclose evidence is a symptom of this contempt.”

Lord Macdonald, who was director of public prosecutions from 2003 to 2008, said that the trials of Liam Allan and Isaac Itiary, which collapsed in the last week, were examples of two failures of public policy: “Firstly, the political rhetoric that privileges victims’ rights over defendant protections has come home to roost. Complainants should be treated with respect, but the inclination to defer to them as victims, even before a trial has determined that this is what they are, tramples over the objectivity police should bring to their investigations.”

The second failure, Lord Macdonald said, was the decision deliberately to slash funding for the Crown Prosecution Service, with “predictable consequences”. He argued that there “are fewer lawyers in the service and this means less expertise. It’s not all about money, but finally you get what you pay for – and if you don’t want to pay, expect miscarriages of justice”.

Lord Macdonald backed the prosecution of complainants who made false allegations, but he cautioned against stepping up such prosecutions in case it deterred genuine complainants to come forward. “People who deliberately make false allegations of crime to the police are committing a serious criminal offence,” he said. “The difficulty is that it is obviously essential not to do anything that discourages real victims of attack from coming forward and a fear of being prosecuted if your account is not believed could easily have that effect.

“That said, particularly egregious cases should obviously be investigated with prosecution in mind.”

Lord Macdonald did not refer to his successors by name but both Sir Keir Starmer, now a Labour MP, and the current DPP, Alison Saunders, have promoted the “victim” rhetoric to which he referred. Since entering parliament Sir Keir, the MP for Holborn and St Pancras, sought to promote a Victims of Crime Bill to create a Victims Commissioner and Victims’ Code. Saunders, who succeeded him, has been criticised for adopting the same terminology, speaking of “rape victims” rather than rape complainants.

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