Sadiq Khan – 2011 Speech to Labour Party Conference

Below is the text of the speech made by Sadiq Khan, the Shadow Secretary of State for Justice, to the Labour Party conference on 28th September 2011.


It’s a privilege and a pleasure to be here today for the first time as your Shadow Secretary of State for Justice.

This past 12 months the challenges of our criminal justice system have become all too apparent.

The groups and campaigning organisations; I’ve met the prisons, young offenders institutions and courts; I’ve visited the judiciary and legal professionals I’ve listened to; and the victims whose experiences I’ve heard.

Take Barry and Margaret Mizen who, following the tragic and unprovoked murder of their young son Jimmy, have channelled all their energies into working towards a safer community for young people across London through the Jimmy Mizen Foundation.

I’m honoured to have Barry advising my policy review.

And the probation officer in Preston with 30 years of experience who spoke of her frustration and disappointment at seeing several generations of the same family come into conflict with the law.

These experiences have shaped my thinking and have reminded me of the progress we made in government but highlighted the hard work that still needs to be done.

As you know, I shadow the Justice Secretary Ken Clarke.

Someone once said that a downside of being in the Shadow Cabinet is that you begin to resemble the cabinet minister that you shadow!

Well, so far, I don’t wear hush puppies.

Don’t smoke cigars.

And manage to stay awake during my leader’s speeches.

Ken and I are very different.

Unlike Ken, I’m not hopelessly out of touch on the issues of crime and justice.

I grew up on a council estate in my South London constituency of Tooting.

I know that often victims and criminals live side by side.

And I understand how important it is for communities blighted by crime to gain important respite from persistent and serial offenders by the handing down of custodial sentences.

Over the past year some of you may have agreed with the tone and sentiment of Ken Clarke’s verdict on our justice system.

And I admit he can sometimes talk a good talk.

After all, who could disagree in principle with a ‘rehabilitation revolution’?

But, Conference, do not be hoodwinked.

Because of Ken Clarke’s and this Government’s policies the Ministry of Justice faces a budget cut of a quarter risking the effective functioning of our justice system.

Dedicated experienced professionals in our prison and probation service face uncertainty about the future of their crucial work.

Even his own Chief Inspector of Prisons, Nick Hardwick, said this month he’s found no evidence at all of a rehabilitation revolution!

However, I’m not going to pretend that had we won the last election I wouldn’t have made cuts.

I would’ve closed down some courts.

We would’ve introduced a new scheme for contracting solicitors for criminal legal aid.

I would’ve continued Labour’s work on payment by results!

But let’s be clear, not only are the Coalition’s cuts deeper and faster than we would’ve made but Ken Clarke along with Teresa May has simply rolled over to the Treasury without even a whimper.

Because of their timidity and complacency, communities up and down the country will pay the price for botched law and order policies.

With no strategy for cutting crime, this Government’s policies on crime and justice are a shambles.

The truth is the Tories cannot be trusted on law and order.

Ken Clarke has not only fallen asleep on the job but he’s also dangerously out of touch.

Remember his insensitive and offensive comments on rape?

On Radio 5Live, and in response to the statement “rape is rape, with respect?”

He said, and I quote: “No, it’s not”.

Mr Clarke, let me tell you rape is rape.

On our watch, we prioritised victims of rape.

We strengthened the law on consent.

Trained 500 more specialist rape prosecutors.

Increased investment on centres offering help to victims of rape and sexual assaults.

And, because of human rights legislation, rape victims are no longer put through the traumatic experience of being cross-examined in person by their alleged assailants.

And remember this Government’s proposals for a 50% reduction in sentence for early guilty pleas?

This would’ve meant that someone pleading guilty to rape being back on the streets after only 15 months.

I believe we should all worry that this Coalition Government threatens to undermine our hard work.

This Government inherited crime 43% lower than in 1997.

We were the first government in history to leave office with crime lower than when we began.

Leaving a justice system much better resourced be it the prison estate, probation services, youth justice or diversion and rehabilitation policies.

More joined up than ever, building the necessary multi-agency, cross-government approach to tackling re-offending.

Investing in prevention policies like Sure Start, parenting classes, early intervention projects, Educational Maintenance Allowance and much more.

Record numbers of police and community support officers.

And yes, being tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime.

As relevant in 2011 as it was when Tony Blair first uttered it in 1993.

But, Conference, I know all wasn’t rosy on our watch.

Re-offending rates nudged down far too slowly.

Too many in our justice system are repeat offenders.

The public perceive non-custodial sentences as a soft option.

And there’s the challenge of moving on from the overly-simplistic “prison works” versus “prison doesn’t work” debate.

Of course, society should seek to prevent crimes taking place in the first place.

That’s what we mean by being tough on the causes of crime.

Recognising the complex and deep roots of criminality.

In government we drew together agencies to work on improving education, health, housing, employment opportunities, seeking out and eradicating inequality.

Sure Start through to EMA.

All now threatened by this Government.

But, it’s also about having enough police to catch those who still commit criminal acts.

Yet under this government, police numbers are falling.

Getting prevention right should make the job of Secretary of State for Justice easier!

Less crime and less repeat crime would mean fewer people in our criminal justice system.

But Conference, we shouldn’t forget that we must also punish those that commit crime.

That’s what we mean by ‘tough on crime’.

It’s an absolutely fundamental part of any justice system that for those committing serious and violent offences, custody is the only appropriate option.

My own background has shown to me that we owe it to communities blighted by crime to give them respite from criminals through custodial sentences.

We owe it to victims to punish criminals.

But we also owe it to communities and victims to prevent offenders drifting back into criminality.

And this isn’t about being easy on offenders it’s ultimately about making communities safer by preventing offenders from returning to crime.

The National Audit Office estimate that the economic cost of offending by young people alone is £11billion a year.

But the social impacts blighted communities, frightened residents, victims of crime are huge too.

For Labour, we’ve an economic and a social imperative to reduce crime.

It’s a win-win. We want to eradicate the economic and social costs, reform offenders, and support communities and victims dealing with the consequences of crime.

Justice relies on the public having confidence in those in authority holding to account those responsible for criminal actions and victims need confidence they’ll be treated properly.

During our time in government:

We made progress with victims

We introduced victim impact statements

We increased investment in victims support

We established a Victims Commissioner and did much more.

Yet, all this is in danger of being undone by this Government.

They’ve slashed resources to victim support services.

Compensation for victims of overseas terrorism such as those affected by bombings in Mumbai and Bali has shamefully yet to materialise.

They’ve refused to create the Office of Chief Coroner – a post that would provide an appeals system for families unhappy with a coroner’s decision on the death of a loved one.

They are planning to slash the budget of the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority.

By restricting the definition of domestic violence, Ken Clarke has removed access to legal aid for some of the most vulnerable women in society posing a threat to women’s safety and that of any children in the family.

And, in fact, this Government is cutting legal aid altogether for housing, debt, benefits and employment issues at a time when people need this the most.

Advice deserts being created as law centres and CABs close down.

And their changes to “no-win, no-fee” cases mean that people like Milly Dowler’s family and other victims of wrong doing by organisations wealthier and more powerful won’t be able to hold them to account.

I want the Labour Party to build a justice system with victims at its heart.

Giving the public, including victims, the confidence that the justice system is on their side.

My policy review will be reporting next year on policies to strike the right balance between punishment and reform, setting out what works to protect the public, support victims, and stop crime.

But, Conference, I am able to announce today that a future Labour Government will introduce a new Victims Law as called for by the Victims Commissioner, Louise Casey, enshrined in statute so that the rights of bereaved families of victims of homicide are honoured.

Delivering effective justice, and treating victims with respect and dignity.

Supporting victims through all stages of the process, including the deeply traumatic experience of when a case reaches court.

Under Labour, victims will be at the heart of our criminal justice system.

And I will work with victims groups to ensure we get this right.

This summer’s riots show that we need a government that isn’t out of touch.

Our country deserves better than knock down justice.

We need to make the important decisions on crime and justice at the same time as making tough fiscal choices.

But Ken Clarke and this Government are simply getting these choices wrong.

It will be down to us to put it right.

There’s only one party that can be trusted on law and order.

That’s us – the Labour Party.