Read Emma’s speech to the National Victims Association Conference

June 24, 2015

150620 NVA ConferenceLast weekend Emma spoke at the National Victims Association’s annual conference, telling victims’ campaigners about her work standing up for victims in Parliament and her plans for reforming the law.

The NVA is a national organisation that provides counselling and support to victims of crime, as well as campaigning for better treatment for victims. Saturday’s conference also heard from Alex Cunningham MP and a number of victims’ organisations including the Homicide Action Group (HAG).

The conference was opened by David Hines of the NVA, who has been working with Emma to reform family law so that the rights of victims are properly respected. David faced a long struggle to adopt his grandson after the tragic murder of his daughter. Emma told the NVA that she would be looking to change the law so that cases like David’s could not happen again.

Emma also welcomed the HAG manifesto, which called for better support for the families of homicide victims, quicker compensation payments, and full case reviews in homicide cases where a person is acquitted.

You can read Emma’s full speech below.

Emma’s speech to the National Victims Association Conference

Thank you so much for inviting me here to speak today, it is always an honour to be asked to speak in my own constituency.

I just wanted to start by paying tribute to the fantastic work that you all do supporting victims who have been let down by our justice system. It is inspiring and heartening to see so many people here who are tireless in their determination to support and advocate for victims, and who make such a huge difference for families who are desperate for justice.

The people you speak up for are victims of life-changing crimes – people who have had their world changed forever by crime. One of the aims of a well-functioning justice system should be to help people get back on track; to gain control over their lives and to feel that justice has been done so that they can move forward. Too often our justice system does the opposite. Victims are denied justice, and face an immense struggle within a legal system that does not feel like it is built to serve them. They are not just victims once – they are made victims over and over again.

David’s story illustrates this all too well. I know many of you will be familiar with his story, but for those who are not:

In 1992 David’s daughter Marie was killed by her former partner, leaving behind their young son. For years afterwards David fought for custody of the young boy, all the while being frustrated in the courts by his daughter’s killer.

Long after the horror of the vicious crime that was committed against his family, he was dealing with the legal and financial consequences. He should never have had to do so, but he is just one of many people for who the crime is just the beginning of the nightmare, and for who the crime is only the first of many injustices they face.

I know what it is like to be a victim of crime. I don’t want to pretend that my experiences come close to those of any of the people in this room, and I can’t begin to understand the pain of losing a loved one. But I do realise what a huge impact being a victim has on your mindset. When I was a social worker I was the victim of assault and verbal abuse, I was involved in some very dangerous cases that led to me being escorted to and from work under security and alarms being placed in my home.

I had to give evidence on numerous occasions in Court, I was often held in a victim support suite, sent into the Court room with Police outside and then back out again once I had given evidence.  These are experiences that will stay with me for the rest of my life.  I remember never really feeling safe and I remember the amount of times my employers and the Court put me at great risk, I also remember the anger I felt towards these organisations for putting me and my family members in harm’s way.

I can not even begin to understand the anger some of the anger you in this room have felt when you have been let down time and time again whilst trying to grieve for a loved one.  It has to be one of the most painful experiences you will ever go through, and one you will never forget.

It’s an experience that leaves you shaken. It changes the way you look at the world. It makes you lose trust in people. The last thing you want is to have to spend months, or even years getting the justice that is due to you – reliving the crime over and over again, when all you want is for it to go away and for things to be normal again. I can only imagine that that feeling is ten times worse for some of the people in this room, and it makes me angry that our justice system – the place these people are supposed to be able to turn to – lets them down.

That’s why I want to work with you so that the criminal justice system truly is on the side of victims, and that’s one of the ways I will be using my voice in Parliament. My colleague Alex will be telling you a little bit more about what our party can do for victims in a little while, and I also want to share with you some of the thoughts I’ve had about where the problems are and what I think we can do to fix them.

But before I do that I just want to take a minute to address the HAG manifesto, because there are some very important points in there that I think politicians need to be talking about more.

I think that the common theme running throughout the manifesto is that we should be making the system work around victims, not the other way around.   The reality is we should never be talking about victims wanting justice in the first place it should be a given.

It just isn’t acceptable that victims of crime should have to jump through so many hoops to get the help they deserve. It is appalling that being a victim of crime in Britain can cost you thousands of pounds, while being a criminal can entitle you to legal aid and institutional support.

I knew David at the time of Marie’s murder, and not knowing much about the legal system I had naturally assumed that he was getting state support to help him achieve justice for him and his family. I had no idea how much of his own time, money and efforts had gone into fighting his case, and the obstacles he faced. It took extraordinary determination, and anyone would be forgiven for having given up faced with such an immense task. It’s a huge credit to David that he kept on fighting, but also a scandal that the fight should have been so hard for him or for any other victim.

So HAG’s manifesto is absolutely right to put the victim at the heart of the process. People should not be left waiting around for compensation, or left unsupported and alone to navigate a confusing legal system. We have to look at how we can reach out to victims through every stage of the process. Instead of saying ‘here’s what you need to do to get help’ we should be saying ‘what can we do to help you?’. We need to look at how we deliver support, and how to make that support more responsive, because right now we expect victims to fend for themselves.

These are complicated problems, and I don’t want to pretend that there are easy solutions. It’s one thing to talk about what we want our justice system to look like, but another thing to make it happen. There are services out there that are failing victims, but it’s not as simple as passing a law – we have to look at how we can make those agencies work better.

There are some changes we can make to the law now though; things that will fix some of the injustices in the system so that they can never happen again.

When I learned about the saga David had gone through to adopt his grandson, I told myself that a case like that could never be allowed to happen again. In fact my first thought was that surely, in the years that have passed between then and now, someone must have stepped in to change the law. Amazingly, nobody has. More than two decades later, it is still possible for a parent who has murdered a child’s other parent to abuse their parental responsibility to obstruct adoption proceedings, even as they serve a sentence for a brutal crime against another family member.

I am not an expert on our criminal justice system, but I feel we have hear an opportunity to make a real difference. Maybe a small one, and maybe only one that will affect a handful of families – but it will save those families years of anguish; it will be the right thing for the children involved; and it will make sure justice is done.

I want to see a change in the law that will mean that, in cases like David’s, a parent convicted of homicide against another family member will automatically forfeit their right of parental responsibility. That simple change will prevent children being used as pawns in family disputes; will help them into loving homes; and will save victims from months or even years of what can be a nightmarish process.

Right now it is the victims who bear the cost of the process, not the offenders. That is not the way it should be. With one simple change we can free victims and children from stress and uncertainty, and help them get back to living their lives instead of forever being dragged back into the past.

When David and I met with the former Justice Minister Simon Hughes just before the election, this was the case we put to him. I feel like we got through, and he seemed to accept that something was badly broken in the justice system.

But so close to the election there was no time to put this change into law, and now with Mr Hughes no longer in his post we have a new, Tory Government to convince. It may be harder than before, but the problem is plain to see, and I won’t let Ministers hide from this issue. I am going to keep making these arguments and fighting for victims. I am applying for debates on this issue, and when the Policing and Criminal Justice Bill comes to Parliament later in this session I will be tabling amendments to get the law changed.

You have lived and felt everything youre talking about, I hope I can count on your support to make these changes and I sincerely hope you approve of them, if you don’t please tell me so I can get this right.

Sadly we also have to live with a Tory majority over the next five years, and so I can’t guarantee change. But what I can promise you is that I will be working with colleagues in my own party – and where I can convince them, in other parties too – and I will be challenging the Government at every turn.

David thank you for inviting me here today, I never thought all those years ago when I knew you when I was a little girl we would meet up again me as your MP and you as a campaigner for justice, thank you all so much for listening, and more importantly for putting yourselves out there so others don’t have to go through what you have been through.

I just hope one day you all have the justice you deserve

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