Page last updated at 19:45 GMT, Thursday, 30 October 2008

Victims' statements 'a success'

Handcuffed man
Some say victims' grief should have no influence over sentencing

A pilot scheme giving murder victims' families a chance to tell the court how the death has affected them has been a success, says the Ministry of Justice.

The pilot in England and Wales allowed statements by victims' relatives to be read out in court after conviction but before sentencing of a killer.

The MoJ said research showed the scheme was therapeutic and made the defendant understand the gravity of their crime.

Opponents have said victims' grief should not be linked to sentencing.

'Positive image'

An MoJ spokeswoman told BBC News: "It's the opportunity for the victims or their relatives to say how the crime has affected them physically, emotionally, financially or in any other way.

"It's one of the factors that can be considered when coming to the sentencing decision, but what shouldn't be said is the victim's opinion of what the sentence should be."

The spokeswoman added that, after the often grim and tragic details of a case, "it allows the victim's family to present a positive image of the victim".

I am heartened that bereaved families are clearly benefiting from their closer involvement with prosecutors
Attorney General Baroness Scotland

Under the pilot scheme - run in crown courts in Birmingham, Cardiff, London, Manchester and Winchester - families of victims composed statements which were read out in court by the prosecution counsel.

The MoJ said these spoken statements took the place of a written impact statement submitted to the judge before sentencing, but not read out in court.

The evaluation report published by the MoJ found:

Families welcomed the opportunity to have their voice heard in court
Families reported the process of preparing and delivering the statement to be therapeutic
Families' reasons for wanting a statement read in court included a desire to make the defendant realise the gravity of their crime

The MoJ said plans to extend the personal statement scheme to victims of further categories of crimes were under consideration.

'More involved'

In a statement, Attorney General Baroness Scotland said: "I am heartened that bereaved families are clearly benefiting from their closer involvement with prosecutors and a greater opportunity to have their say."

Charity group Support after Murder and Manslaughter (SAMM) welcomed the findings.

A spokesman said: "The feedback from our members is that they really found this helpful in giving them the opportunity to tell the court how the murder or manslaughter had impacted on their lives.

"They also felt that the process made them feel more involved in the criminal justice system."

Concerns over the scheme have been raised by the Law Society and the charity Victim Support who said the grief of relatives should not be linked to the sentencing process.

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