Saturday, 7 July 2012

Doreen Soulsby achieves a change in the law - and Justice for victims

My constituent Doreen Soulsby is a truly amazing woman, but she is also sadly the mother of a daughter who was sexually assaulted and murdered locally in Northumberland many years ago not far from where I live. Her daughters assailant was prosecuted successfully for murder, but in a bizarre legal decision at the time the murderer was not prosecuted for rape, despite admitting it at the time of the offence. The decision not to allow prosecution was also not one that Mrs Soulsby agreed with, nor to be fair was it one that the CPS barrister at the time agreed with. However, after a long campaign Mrs Soulsby, andf others similarly affected by such decisions, have managed to get the CPS guidance and, effectively, the law changed.
The Director of Public Prosecutions, Keir Starmer QC, met with the Doreen, myself, the Victims Commissioner Louise Casey, and others in a meeting in London as part of the victims campaign. In future, when prosecutors decide whether to prosecute, they must consider not only if there is a realistic prospect of conviction but also if it is in the public interest.
The DPP is an impressive man and an excellent lawyer / prosecutor. He wrote in Thursday Times as follows:

"I met Mr and Mrs Clough and other parents in a similar position [Doreen Soulsby]. Their argument was powerful: that overall sentence is not the only factor and, in many ways, the public interest will be served by bringing rape charges even when there is a murder conviction. So I decided to look again at this issue and, after consultation, today I am publishing revised guidance. In cases where an offence as serious as rape is alleged in the context of a subsequent murder, the Crown Prosecution Service should persist with the rape charges save in exceptional circumstances, even if no extra penalty can realistically be imposed.

Although the CPS does not act on behalf of victims or their families, it is vital that we acknowledge how important it is that families feel that justice has been done. In this new guidance I have made it clear that prosecutors must consult families whenever a plea or conviction for murder is entered and explain to them the implications of not proceeding with other charges. That does not mean that the CPS will always persist with charges, but leaving charge to lie on the file will now be the exception, not the rule. The CPS has worked hard in recent years to improve how we prosecute rape, and we now challenge the myths and stereotype that rape victims can attract. both in our decision-making and in court. These guidelines add to that important work."

Keir added this crucial point:
"Victims and their families should not have only a "walk on" part in our criminal justice system. They should be treated as real participant with real interests that deserve to be protected."

Fuller details of this amazing womans long camapign can be found here: