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Last Updated: Tuesday, 26 April, 2005, 11:43 GMT 12:43 UK
Labour plans 'victims' advocates'
Lawyer in wig
Victims' advocates could be either barristers or solicitors
Victims of crime and their families could be given legal representation in court, under plans announced by Labour.

The party says "victims' advocates" in cases would advise victims and speak for them in court.

Lord Chancellor Lord Falconer said the move would ensure "the courts take fully into account the victims' view".

The Conservatives said preventing crime was the best policy, while the Lib Dems said victims needed more support but more lawyers were not the solution.

A Lib Dem spokesman said they would instead "give greater support to the police and victim support so that they can perform that role properly".

Shadow Home Secretary David Davis said: "The best way to help victims of crime is to prevent them becoming victims in the first place.

"There is a clear choice at the election - more police and tougher sentences with the Conservatives or more lenient sentences and more talk from Mr Blair."

'Victims' voice'

Labour's idea is borrowed from the United States, where victims have for at least a decade been able to tell a court of the impact of a crime on them before sentence is passed.

But Labour's plans will not involve victims themselves addressing courts. The victims' advocates will be either solicitors or barristers.

VICTIMS' ADVOCATES COULD:
Protect victims in court
Object to inappropriate questioning relating to victims
Apply for victim confidentiality
Lobby for out of court settlements
Advise victims on rights

To begin with, Labour's proposed legislation would see victims' advocates being available for cases involving serious crimes such as murder and rape.

Lord Falconer, the Lord Chancellor, said: "Victims need a voice.

"Labour is on the side of victims of crime - and for the first time, Labour will make sure that victims and their families will have the right to be represented in court.

"A voice for victims will rebalance the way serious cases like murder and rape are tried, so that the courts take fully into account the victims' view in trying cases."

In a statement, the party said: "Labour's plan to reshape radically how courts hear serious criminal cases underline's Labour's commitment to put victims and witnesses at the heart of the justice system."

'Proper funding'

The Law Society welcomed Labour's proposal, saying the plans would encourage people to give evidence.

Its chief executive, Janet Paraskeva, said: "It is an admirable pledge to make the court process more comfortable for victims.

But she added: "Too often the government has created a raft of new criminal justice policies without providing the necessary resources and this has had a crushing impact on civil legal aid.

"Unless these plans are properly funded, pressure on the civil legal aid budget will increase.

'Substantial figure'

A party spokesman said poorer families could get their advocates funded through legal aid.

At the moment everybody in court has a lawyer, apart from the person the crime was committed against
Labour spokesman

He said: "The crucial point is to establish that these people have the right to be represented.

"At the moment everybody in court has a lawyer, apart from the person the crime was committed against."

The spokesman said the cost of the proposal was "a substantial figure, but not great in overall public spending terms".

"This is a significant change and we want to apply it to the cases where the difficulties are most harsh," he said.





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