08:15, February 27 105 0 theguardian.com

2018-02-27 08:15:04
Interview  Helen Newlove: ‘Victims should never be let down by the justice system’

Baroness Newlove has every right to feel exasperated. For years, the victims’ commissioner has listened to Conservative party promises that stronger protection for the rights of victims will be enshrined in law.

But successive government reshuffles – that have whisked new secretaries of state through the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) and out before they have time to deliver on their agendas – combined with Brexit-induced legislative paralysis have thwarted passage of a bill.

As recent high-profile cases – such as the trial of former football coach Barry Bennell, and the parole of taxi rapist John Worboys – show, victims, still do not receive sufficient support, Newlove believes. But the Tory life peer is more determined than disappointed. “For two years after the Queen’s speech [in 2015] I have pushed for the victims’ law that they promised,” she says. “There’s going to be [an MoJ] victims’ strategy ... but I keep calling for a victims’ law. These people should not be let down.” The MoJ will not confirm when the strategy will be published or when the long-promised victims’ bill might appear.

Newlove also wants to tackle the thorny issue of compensation. A report on how accessible the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority is and how it has treated victims is due soon. For years the CICA refused to pay out compensation to victims who were abused as children on the grounds that they were deemed to have consented to the attacks. Although the policy was changed last year, Newlove still thinks there is room for improvement. “The whole principle,” Newlove said, “is that [if it involves anyone under 16] it’s statutory rape. It’s about treating victims with dignity and respect.”

Newlove was a housewife and then a legal secretary until the events of one evening in August 2007 catapulted her into public consciousness. Her husband, Garry, was murdered by a gang on the doorstep of the family’s home in Cheshire. He had gone outside to confront teenagers who were vandalising his wife’s car and a neighbour’s digger. His attackers were reported to have laughed as they kicked him to death. The ensuing outrage and media attention transformed Helen Newlove into a committed campaigner for justice whose personal experience delivered a different perspective on the shortcomings of the criminal justice system.

Having founded a charity, Newlove Warrington, to improve community safety in 2008 and set up set up the National Licensed Trade Association in 2010 to provide education and training for landlords and bar staff to help stop binge drinking, she was made a Conservative life peer in 2010 and was appointed the government’s champion for active safer communities the same year. Then in 2012, Newlove was appointed victims’ commissioner for England and Wales, with responsibility for championing the interests of victims and witnesses as well as monitoring compliance with the Victims’ Code, which sets out what each criminal justice agency must do for victims and a timeframe they must do it in.

Her office’s last report recommended increased funding for registered intermediaries (RIs) – professionals such as speech therapists and psychologists, who give a voice in court to those, such as the very young or adults with learning difficulties, who have problems communicating. In two extraordinary cases last year, RIs helped a two-year-old girl become the youngest person ever to testify in a British court and a former chorister, rendered immobile by motor neurone disease, was enabled to give evidence from his hospice bed using eye-tracking technology, which allowed him to speak via a computer. His account helped convict a retired Anglican vicar of indecent assault.

Newlove’s support for extra funding for RIs is consistent with her experience of court procedures at the trial of her husband’s murderers. She recalls watching her daughters, “traumatised and grieving for their father”, give evidence at the murder trial. “It really wounded me deeply when I watched my daughters in our case.”

“When they gave evidence, there was just an usher. They would really have liked someone who was more comforting and could explain what was happening. It’s about building a relationship. They felt very lonely. It left me thinking they didn’t have the support [they needed].

“It’s about how hard is it for them to be believed. .. I don’t want other vulnerable people [to feel] they have not had justice.” Entitlement to a registered intermediary, Newlove believes, should be a right contained in any new victims’ law.

If her recommendations to provide faster access to RIs are not taken up by the MoJ, Newlove says, it would be “letting victims down”. Ensuring an RI is on hand to help a vulnerable witness or victim give their account of what happened promptly to the police or courts is vital in order to secure evidence for a trial.

Swift justice, she added, is better. Helping victims express themselves empowers them. “If you don’t have the right people supporting them you are not making it easy. It’s about rehabilitation of victims as well as offenders.

“Why should victims always have to be fighting their corner? That’s why we need a victims’ law.”

Curriculum vitae

Age: 56.

Family: Married with three daughters from a previous marriage.

Lives: London and Merseyside.

Education: St Patrick High School, Eccles, Manchester; St Helens College.

Career: 2012-present: victims’ commissioner for England and Wales; 2010-12: government’s champion for active safer communities; 2011-2014: chair, Community Alcohol Partnerships; 2010: set up the National Licensed Trade Association; 2008: founded Newlove Warrington charity; 2000-2007: legal PA, Linder Myers, Berg Legal; 1990-2004: housewife and mum; 1980s: committal court assistant, Manchester magistrates court;

Public life: 2017-present: deputy speaker, House of Lords; 2017-present: select committee, civic society, House of Lords; 2016-2017: EU Justice subcommittee, House of Lords; 2010-present Conservative peer in the House of Lords.

Interests: Reading, history and politics, watching Real Housewives of Cheshire and a bichon frise, Alfie.