I will pull a few useful quoutes from the document to illustrate what it is that the government is trying to achieve, and where my objections lie. Quotes are in italics.
Victims make their voices heard now – but usually outside court, on the steps of the court, sometimes in front of the media. They take that opportunity because it is clear that they often feel that is the only choice open to them – the only course of action available. p.6
I won't argue with the idea that some people do wish to make a public statement on the loss of a friend or family member, and that on the steps of the courts is where they choose to do it. I don't believe that this is as common an occurance as is sometimes portrayed. I believe that a lot of people in that situation would just like to be left alone. Many of the statements read out by lawyers are pleas to the media and society to be left alone after the trial - made because they feel they have to by the presures of society.
We want to build on the improvements we have been making. So far, the changes we have made are mainly about how the court process should impact on the victim – not how the victim should impact on the process. p.13
I fully support the changes that have been made so far in ensuring that the decisions of the CPS and other legal organisations are transparent - so that the relatives of the deseased know why decisions have been made, such as decisions not to prosecute or why the particular charge has been brought. Similarly the single point of contect for witnesses to make the whole system seem less confusing is to be welcomed.
I am very uneasy about the idea that the same people should have any say in those decisions.
In October 2001 we introduced the right for victims or others affected by the crime to make a written personal statement, known as a Victim Personal Statement. p.14
This statement may be taken into account when the courts decide on a sentence, or bail conditions. What happens to people who have no living relatives? Will the fact that no one will make a statement on their behalf mean that their lives are 'cheaper' than other peoples?
What about those families who do not wish to stand up in court and display their grief for society's entertainment. Will their lack of a statement be detrimental to the legal and sentencing process?
A court of law is supposed to be an impartial arbiter of justice, not a media circus, nor a lynch mob.
But evidence shows that the takeup and understanding of the Victim Personal Statement has been patchy so far. p.14
I have downloaded the report quoted as "evidence" in this case and I am working through it (80 pages). I will write a second post in the next few days once I have finished. Needless to say the VPS has not been an unqualified success.
The CPS and other prosecuting authorities are taking further steps to encourage and facilitate dialogue between prosecutors and victims. For example, the Attorney General will shortly be introducing new guidelines that emphasise the importance of seeking the views of victims in making prosecution decisions. p.15
I hope I'm not alone in opposing this. Decisions over whether to prosecute are supposed to be taken on the merits of the case, including whether there is enough evidence for a reasonable chance of conviction. I do not see the point in allowing the relatives of the victim to push forward a case that has little or no chance of success.
We wish to consider a radical proposal to try a new approach, namely that in murder and manslaughter cases relatives should be able to present their views in person to the judge at the sentencing stage of the trial. This should provide a better basis for the judge to take account of the effect of the crime on the bereaved relatives when sentencing. p.16
Wonderful. Let's turn the court room into an edition of the Jerry Springer Show - when are the cameras coming in?
Everyone agrees that when it comes to sentencing the judge should take into account the effect of the crime on the victim’s relatives, but he or she does not usually hear from them directly to understand the effect of their loss. p.16
Really? No evidence to back this statement up - no references to any studies or surveys - just a bald statement.
Let's examine this statement - those people without any living relatives matter less then those with. I disagree. A murder is a serious crime whether the victim is a working parent with a vibrant social network or an isolated elderly widow* - and the sentencing should not distinguish between the status of the victim.
* Spot the stereotyping.