The rule of law is fundamental to the British way of life. Fighting crime, maintaining public order and ensuring that communities have confidence in the police are crucial to the rule of law. That is why last year the Justice and Home Affairs Commission examined in detail issues surrounding policing and crime. Labour also believes that respect for the rule of law requires a justice system which is accessible to all, so rights can be protected and those who do wrong are held to account. A robust legal system is crucial to ensuring the guilty are convicted, the innocent are protected, and that everyone has access to justice regardless of their means. Labour will strongly defend the Human Rights Act, but in order to benefit from its protections our justice system must be within the reach of everyone, not just those who can afford it.
The prison system should punish those who have done wrong and protect the public from dangerous offenders, whilst also ensuring that those who are locked up have a real opportunity for rehabilitation. Labour believes frontline prison officers are crucial to turning the lives of offenders around, so the safety of prison staff must be a top priority. When ex-convicts are released back into society it is vital they are appropriately supported and monitored. Labour will develop an effective probation service which places public safety and rehabilitation above a profit motive.
Victims must feel confident participating in the justice system. If someone has been the victim of crime and has been courageous enough to come forward and report what has happened to them, they should be treated fairly and with respect by the police and courts. When someone has suffered domestic abuse and seeks justice in the family courts, they should not face further victimisation. The passage of time should not prevent truth and justice prevailing. Labour will seek to place victims at the heart of the justice system and ensure historic wrongs can be put right.
Labour wants to see fair rules and reasonable management of migration in the best interests of the economy and society. We recognise that over many generations, Britain has seen people come from abroad to help build our businesses, work in our public services at every level and contribute to our growth. But also that large scale and rapid immigration does bring challenges which need strong government action to tackle them, including on community infrastructure and the lack of investment in public services and training by this Conservative Government. Issues around migration featured prominently during the EU referendum debate and Labour is clear that there will be a trade-off between restrictions on the movement of people and securing full single market access for Britain. Labour’s priority is to protect the economy, people’s jobs and living standards, and our rights at work and environmental protections. We must also ensure that EU citizens living in the UK are not used as pawns in Brexit negotiations.
Last year, the Justice and Home Affairs Commission looked at crime and policing as a priority issue, taking evidence on topics such as police governance, gender-based violence, and police relations with BAME communities. This year the National Policy Forum (NPF) identified immigration, prisons and access to justice as the key issues the Commission must investigate. At its first meeting in the New Year, the Commission agreed that victims’ rights and historic injustice was a further key issue that should be explored.
Immigration is an important issue and will be a key consideration during the negotiations to leave the EU. It is a complex, wide-ranging, and sometimes emotive topic, but the Tories have done nothing but offer simplistic false promises on immigration, eroding public confidence. Labour’s practical approach is in stark contrast to Tory failure. They have dragged their feet on accepting a fair share of refugees, and they are refusing to guarantee the rights of EU citizens living and working in Britain.
The spike in attacks against immigrant communities in the wake of the referendum emphasised the need to discuss this issue in a sensitive and thoughtful manner. As we plan for a future outside of the EU, it is vital that Labour develop an approach to migration which recognises the contribution made by people who have come to work and live here over many years, but which also addresses concerns around the effect of immigration on public services and wages. We must also consider what Britain must do both at home and abroad to play our part in bringing the refugee crisis to an end. And we need to consider the most effective strategies for strengthening border security to bear down on illegal immigration and people trafficking.
Everyone should feel safe in their home, at work, and in their communities. An effective prison system can help achieve this by locking up those who are a danger to the public and by rehabilitating prisoners so when they are released they do not reoffend. But under the Tories our prisons are in crisis. Overcrowding has been exacerbated by the closure of 17 prisons, while the loss of thousands of frontline staff has coincided with record levels of violence, self-harm, and drug abuse. Reoffending rates have not improved and the reckless privatisation of the probation service has been a costly failure.
Labour’s task is to devise a new approach to prisons and probation in which the public can place their confidence. This will mean addressing the recruitment crisis which has seen many experienced prison officers leave the service in recent years. It also involves consideration of new strategies to tackle the drug abuse and mental health problems that play a part in fuelling so much violence in our prisons. And we must also examine how the support and monitoring of ex-offenders needs to change so that people can be turned away from a life of crime.
We are rightly proud of our legal system in this country. Founded on the concept that no one is above the law and that everyone should be able to assert their rights and protect their liberties, it has been replicated all over the world. However this model has been undermined by the Conservative Government, which has made access to justice unaffordable for many ordinary working people by reducing the scope of legal aid, introducing tribunal fees, and closing courts. The widespread closure of legal advice centres has also significantly impacted on access to justice as it means many people are unaware of their rights or any remedies available to them in law. The Conservatives’ attack on human rights, through funding cuts to the Equality and Human Rights Commission and plans to scrap the Human Rights Act, can also be seen as an attempt to deny justice for those who have been wronged.
We must look at how we ensure that access to justice is not just a privilege reserved for those who have the means to pay for it against a backdrop of significantly reduced funding. This will include reassessing the effect of the Government’s changes to legal aid, investigating the benefits of alternative methods of dispute resolution, and a consideration of innovative ways of advising people of their rights and responsibilities.
Victims of crime have a right to expect to be treated fairly and compassionately by the justice system, but too many are still being let down by the police and courts. Furthermore, the current Victims’ Code is not sufficient to guarantee the rights of victims and the Tories still have not brought forward a Victims’ Law as promised. Additionally, abusers can still misuse the civil justice system to torment those who have suffered at their hands.
The Conservatives have also recently refused to grant public inquiries into historic injustices, such as Orgreave and the Shrewsbury 24. We must develop policies that guarantee better treatment of victims in the criminal justice system, that strengthen their rights, and that ensure historic wrongs can be put right.