Victims’ families ‘deserve court protection’

By Alex Stevenson

The courts give better treatment to the privacy-conscious super-rich than they do to the families of murder victims, a government adviser has said.

Victims' commissioner Louise Casey's claim came as she published a report calling for more support for relatives of murder victims – and new legislation to enshrine them in law.

"Families deserve to bury the body of their child without defence lawyers asking for autopsy after autopsy," she said.

"They deserve not to have to sit next to the defendant's family in court listening to the laughing, or being intimidated by them.

"They deserve to be told that their husband's killer is going to be released before they bump into him in the supermarket.

"They deserved to be treated with some humanity in the witness box."

Her report recommends allowing murder victims' family members to give evidence in private in court.

It also proposes a right to information from the crown prosecution service and a release of the body back to the families within 28 days.

Recent comments by Bob Dowler, the father of murdered teenager Milly Dowler, about the way his family was treated have underlined the problem.

He said he felt questioning from the opposing legal team made him feel like he was on trial.

Labour seized on the report as evidence that the government has a "blind spot" when it comes to victims.

Shadow justice secretary Sadiq Khan attacked the coalition's sentencing U-turn, cuts in funding of victim support services and delays in compensating the victims of overseas terrorism.

"It's about time they listened to victims' views and did what's needed to support them," he said.

"I welcome the call for a new victims' law which will enshrine the proper treatment, information and rights bereaved families of victims of crime should receive."

Justice secretary Kenneth Clarke said he was making an extra £500,000 available this year to increase the number of professional caseworkers in the homicide service.

"We can never make things right for families bereaved through crime and it would be foolish to pretend that any level of support could ever achieve this," he said.

"But we can do more to ensure that families get the help they need and that the practical impacts of bereavement are minimised."

A further £2.25 million is being invested in the homicide service and in specialist voluntary organisations which help bereaved families, he added.

A review of victim support arrangements, assessing victims' services, entitlements and redress, is currently underway.