The week in Westminster has been dominated by the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts bill, which was debated and voted on in parliament on Monday and Tuesday. There were measures in the bill which were supported (and had been campaigned for) by Labour MPs – on dangerous driving, on protecting those who protect us, on reform of the DBS scheme, and on sexual abuse by people holding position of trust. But concerns about other aspects of the bill were exacerbated by the terrible murder of Sarah Everard, and the policing of the vigil in her memory on Saturday night.
Sarah Everard’s tragic death sparked a national demand for action to tackle violence against women, including action on domestic homicides, rape and street harassment, as well as tackling the misogynistic attitudes that underpin the abuse women face. This bill could have offered a chance to put stronger laws to protect women on the statute book. But instead what we got was a bill – which had originally been intended to introduce a number of sensible sentencing measures – that introduces disproportionate controls on free expression and the right to protest.
Conservative ministers were desperate to rush this bill through parliament before the local elections in May. But when you can get a longer sentence for damaging a statue than for attacking a woman, you know the government has its priorities badly wrong. And sentencing changes won’t make a difference when the whole justice system is bogged down in backlogs and delays. Victims of crime are being asked to wait up to 4 years to get to court, and many victims and witnesses are dropping out of the justice system entirely because of delays. Violent criminals are being spared prison because of delays. The Crown Court backlog is now at an all-time record high of more than 56,000 cases. There are 27,000 fewer sitting days than in 2016. Half of courts in England and Wales closed between 2010-19.
Labour voted against the bill on Tuesday night, but the Conservative majority in parliament means it will now proceed to the next stage of the parliamentary process – where we will do our best to introduce amendments to strengthen the law protecting women and girls from violence and abuse. But this week was a missed opportunity to put victims of crime first.
P.S: The Trafford Council elections and the Mayor of Greater Manchester election will take place on Thursday 6 May. Don’t forget to sign up for your postal vote.