Page last updated at 15:03 GMT, Thursday, 5 November 2009

Justice 'must focus on victims'

Sara Payne: "In every single area you get treated in a different way"

Child protection campaigner Sara Payne is calling on the government to "redefine" justice to give greater priority to victims of crime.

Mrs Payne, whose daughter Sarah was murdered by a convicted paedophile, was named Victims' Champion in January.

She wants victims to be given more help to deal with the impact of crime and says they need greater clarity about the jail terms offenders will serve.

The government has pledged to set up a victims service in England and Wales.

Mrs Payne has published a report after spending nine months speaking to victims and witnesses and studying front line services.

She told the BBC: "In every single area you get treated in a different way. What we need to do is make sure that everybody has access to the same system that everyone else does.

Sara Payne's recommendations
Judges should make clear how long offenders will serve in prison
Drug use, criminal damage and verbal abuse cases should be criminal prosecutions
Incentives for criminals to plead guilty before trial

'Extremely lucky'

Mrs Payne said her experience of the criminal justice system had been positive.

She said: "I was extremely lucky - I was treated with respect right from the start. From the minute of reporting Sarah going missing, I had support from everybody.

I was included in the investigation. If you can do it for one person, you can do it for all."

The report says that at present, justice is defined as "catching the criminal and protecting the public", and victims and witnesses feel they are included simply to "aid" that process.

In her report Ms Payne calls for some types of anti-social behaviour - criminal damage, drug use and verbal abuse - to be re-categorised as "criminal" behaviour and dealt with in the criminal courts.

She says: "Something has gone deeply wrong that these types of behaviour... are classed as a form of nuisance and left to housing associations, landlords and local authorities to deal with."

Sarah Payne
Sarah Payne was murdered by paedophile Roy Whiting in 2000

Mrs Payne also calls for transparency in sentencing so that victims know exactly how long offenders will serve in prison.

She also calls for greater incentives for defendants to admit their crime before the case goes to trial.

The Justice Secretary, Jack Straw, said Mrs Payne had been appointed Victims' Champion so that ministers would hear directly from victims.

He said: "There have been substantial improvements to services and support to victims, as Sara herself has acknowledged, but there is more to do and more we want to do."

'Missed opportunity'

He said a National Victims Service was due to be launched next year and would eventually be expanded to offer practical, emotional and financial support to all victims of crime.

The Shadow Justice Secretary Dominic Grieve said Mr Payne had identified "a string of failings in the criminal justice system".

He said: "After countless reviews have been ignored by this government, the public has little faith in its ability to deliver the change we need."

Simon Reed from the Police Federation of England and Wales said Mrs Payne was "absolutely right" to call for a review of the criminal justice system.

Sentencing is a joke - most criminals seem to serve around half their sentences, and this is an insult to victims
Alice W, Bristol, UK

But Victim Support's chief executive, Gillian Guy, called the report "something of a missed opportunity".

She explained: "It doesn't actually tackle the fundamental problem that however much we try to tweak the system to help victims and witnesses, we are still trying to make it do something it was not designed to do.

"We need to tackle crime and its effects on society in the round - rehabilitation, prevention and caring for those affected are every bit as important as dealing with offenders", she said.

Mrs Payne's eight-year-old daughter was murdered in 2000 by known paedophile Roy Whiting.

Since then she has campaigned for a so-called "Sarah's Law", giving parents the right to know about convicted sex offenders living near them.

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