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Last Updated: Thursday, 23 February 2006, 10:24 GMT
Families to speak out in courts
Floral tributes
Bereaved families will be able to make a statement at trials
Relatives of murder and manslaughter victims are to be given the right to be represented in court as part of a pilot project in five areas of the UK.

It will be tested for a year at the Old Bailey and in Birmingham, Cardiff, Manchester Crown Square and Winchester.

From April, the scheme will see a "victim's advocate", a family member for example, making a statement in murder and manslaughter trials.

If successful the scheme will apply nationwide, the government has said.

Lord Falconer, the lord chancellor, said: "The choice is between giving people no voice at all in the process [and] allowing them to have a voice.

The concept is a good one, but we have to look very carefully at how it is done in practice
Paul Fawcett
Victim Support

"They know that if their voice is heard then at least the court will proceed on the basis that they knew what the effect of the crime was," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

"People have much more confidence in a process if they were allowed to speak in it."

If the pilot scheme worked, it would be rolled out across the country and would become "an accepted part of the way that the system works in relation to murder and manslaughter cases", he added.

The family statement would be read out in court at the sentencing stage.

It would detail how the death and subsequent events had affected them.

'Great frustration'

Currently, relatives have to remain silent throughout court proceedings.

A spokesman for the Department for Constitutional Affairs said funding would be available for families who wished to hire a barrister but could not afford one themselves, though it would not be from the Legal Aid budget.

Paul Fawcett, a spokesman for Victim Support, said there was "undoubtedly a need" for the scheme.

"It is of great frustration for families left behind after a murder or manslaughter trial that they just have to sit there quietly," he said.

But he warned that while the concept was good "we have to look very carefully at how it is done in practice".

'Humiliated and degraded'

"We are concerned that it might make families feel they have had an influence over the sentence given and it may make them feel they need to put on a performance."

When the scheme was first mooted, it was welcomed by the mother of a murdered teenager.

Wendy Crompton, whose 18-year-old son William was murdered along with his girlfriend Fiona Ovis in Llandrindod Wellssaid, Wales, expressed frustration at being unable to speak at the killer's 1997 trial and later retrial.

"I support wholeheartedly the idea that victims' families should be listened to and communicated with and not ignored," she said.

"I felt ignored and I felt humiliated and degraded by the system - it isn't anything to do with us once it comes into the legal system."



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