This week, as I stood at the despatch box for the first time as Lord Chancellor, to introduce the Victims and Prisoners Bill, I was thinking of Cheltenham. Specifically, I was thinking of Ellie Aston, a Cheltenham GP I met shortly after I was first elected in 2015. She was subject to of an appalling seven-year stalking ordeal at the hands of a former patient.
As a backbencher, I led the campaign supported by the brilliant Nick Gazzard to double the maximum sentence for those convicted of this cruel crime.
The Victims Bill will do a number of things. First it will ensure that victims are made aware of their rights under the Victim’s Code, such as the entitlement to be kept updated about the progress of the investigation, and to make a statement to be read out in court at the sentencing hearing to explain how they have been affected by the crime.
Second, it will provide for an independent advocate to represent families and victims in the aftermath of a major tragedy like Hillsborough or Grenfell.
Third, it will make clear that offenders should not be released from prison unless the parole board is satisfied they are no longer a danger to the public. Meanwhile, a ministerial check will be introduced on the release of the worst criminals convicted of the four most heinous offences: murder, rape, terrorism and killing a child.
Finally, it will end the ridiculous farce of murderers sentenced to Whole Life Orders getting married behind bars. It is grotesque for victims’ families to think of killers enjoying their big day while others have had their hopes of happiness destroyed.
I passionately believe that every part of the criminal justice system must work to protect and defend victims, whilst protecting of course the right to a fair trial. We want to see the guilty convicted and the innocent walk free.
This Bill will stand up for victims, ensuring that they are listened to, supported and treated with dignity.
It is another step forward in the journey I started here in Cheltenham with Dr Ellie Aston.
[Column published in the Glos Echo]