Keir Starmer promises a tough stance on trafficking and rape cases in Labour manifesto

As the Labour Party unveiled their manifesto today in Manchester the party made promises to provide fast track rape cases through the courts and dedicated rape units in every police force. 

Keir Starmer claims the ‘Labour Party has changed’ and seeks to make Britain’s streets safer again after declaring plans to put 13,000 more neighbourhood police and PSCOs on the beat with funding coming from a ‘new police efficiency programme’.

The manifesto states that legal advocates will be provided for rape victims and a specialised rape unit stationed with every police force, the party also aims to fast-track rape and sexual assault cases – as CPS reported that completed prosecutions had declined by 3.5 per cent between 2022 and 2023.

An example cited by the party in their manifesto detailed the story of Raneem, a woman who was killed along with her mother. Reportedly she had called 999 a total of 13 times over a period of five months, saying ‘no-one took her complaints seriously enough’.

The party said: “With Labour, trained domestic abuse specialists will support 999 handlers. Funded by eliminating police waste cutting drastically the level of violence against women and girls.”

Labour say that ‘security is the bedrock on which communities can thrive and local economies can prosper’ stating that ‘in the past 14 years violent crime has risen and there are persistently high levels of violence against women and girls.’.

Labour promises to deploy more police and investigators in a Cross-Border Police Unit to go after the smuggler and trafficking gangs who undermine the country’s border security and put lives at risk. They have called the criminal justice system ‘broken’, speaking on ‘soaring court backlogs and overcrowded prisons’.

The party manifesto claims that Labour will aim to tackle violence against women and girls and pledge to ‘halve levels of violence against women and girls within a decade’. They have suggested an introduction of new specialist domestic abuse workers in 999 control rooms, saying: “We’ll require police forces to target dangerous repeat offenders with the tactics and tools normally reserved for counter-terror and serious organised crime investigations, to get serious perpetrators off our streets. And we’ll put specialists in the court system to support rape and domestic abuse victims and ensure that justice is done.”

In sentiments that echo the Labour manifesto the Law Society has made comment on ‘record criminal court backlogs’ and say the issue should be a priority for the next government. Figures released today have shown the backlog of cases continue to grow ‘leaving victims and defendants waiting years for justice’.

At the end of April this year, there were 68,125 outstanding cases in the Crown Courts and 387,042 in the magistrates’ courts. This compares to 60,760 Crown Court cases and 338,866 magistrates’ court cases in April 2023.

“It is alarming to see the criminal court backlogs continue to spiral,” said Law Society of England and Wales president Nick Emmerson.

“It is unacceptable that victims, witnesses and defendants are having to wait so long, with their lives in limbo, to access justice. The criminal justice system is in crisis with huge backlogs of cases, crumbling courts and overcrowded prisons.

“There simply are not enough judges and lawyers to work on all the cases and we have heard concerning reports that court buildings are not being used to their full capacity.

“A recent report by the National Audit Office* (NAO) correctly highlighted the decline in lawyers working in the criminal defence profession which is due to a reduction in legal aid fees, increasing levels of stress and poor working conditions. It also rightly pointed to the dilapidated state of much of the court estate and the failure to deliver prisoners to court on time as factors which only add to the delays. Sustained investment across the criminal justice system must be a priority for the next UK government.”

‘Disappointment’ has been expressed at the lack of address concerning cohabitation reform in the Labour manifesto, with a Senior Associate at Stowe Family Law after MP Emily Thornberry’s expression of commitment to reviewing current legislation. She says that family law practitioners have been fighting for reform for ‘many years’ and has expressed concern at the minimal rights of cohabiting couples. Despite promises to introduce changes that reflect contemporary relationships, there is no mention of law reform in the manifesto.

At the Labour Party conference last October, the Shadow Attorney General, Emily Thornberry, committed to reforming the law on cohabiting couples. In her speech ‘Making the Law work for Women’ she said:

“For too long, women in cohabiting couples have been left with no rights when those relationships come to an end. If there is no joint property or shared parental dues, a man can leave his partner with nothing, especially if he has the means to take it to court and – thanks to the Tories – she does not. It is time we reviewed this issue in England and Wales, just as it has been in New Zealand, Scotland and Ireland. No woman should be forced to get married or stay in an unhappy relationship, just to avoid ending up on the street.”

Gabrielle Read-Thomas, Senior Associate at Stowe Family Law, says:

“I am disappointed that cohabitation reform has been excluded from the Labour Party’s Manifesto after Emily Thornberry’s expression of commitment to reviewing the current (concerning lack of) structure around cohabitation in October 2023.

Family practitioners have been pushing for cohabitation reform for many years , with very little success. Currently, although they are the fastest growing family type in the UK, cohabitees have minimal legal rights.

Despite this, there is still a widespread belief in the mythical common law marriage, with 46% of respondents to a survey we conducted at Stowe Family Law believing that cohabitees have the same rights as married couples.

Matters are in desperate need of change as individuals, particularly women, are being left extremely vulnerable if their relationship breaks down or if their partner passes away without leaving a Will, as there are no protective measures regarding finances in place.

The public is backing calls for reform. 92% of respondents to our survey said that they believed cohabitees should have legal protections. However, any such legal structures should be approached with caution, with robust structures and criteria in place, potentially with an opt-in or opt-out system (86% agreeing with opt-in) to minimise the risk of financial vulnerability.

The next Government needs to carefully consider the impact of not prioritising cohabitation reform, particularly on women who are left with no protections. Unfortunately, change still seems a long way off.”

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