Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 26 July 2014

Victims' statements extension urged

Alan Shatter has accused some judges of being oblivious to the impact of crime on citizens

Justice Minister Alan Shatter has accused some judges of being oblivious to the impact of crime on citizens.

Mr Shatter said he wanted to put victims at the heart of the justice system by letting people whose lives have been disrupted by a burglary or anti-social behaviour give an impact statement to the court.

The Victims Bill will also give ordinary people the right to access information on a case and ensure they are kept up to date by justice agencies, like gardai and the prison service.

The minister said what the court views as minor offences can be a major event in someone's life.

"I do have a concern that on occasions when the courts are passing sentence they are somewhat oblivious to the impact on the daily lives of individuals of specific acts of criminality for which people have been convicted," said Mr Shatter.

"I do believe we need to extend the circumstances in which victim impact statements are made to our courts to ensure that when addressing the issue of sentencing a judge fully understands and is fully aware of the impact on the lives of individuals of the crime to which they have been subjected."

Opening the fifth victims of crime consultative forum, Mr Shatter said the proposed law was more than a symbolic gesture. He said while the courts already have regard for victims of serious crimes, like sexual and violent offences, his planned legislation would include statements from those affected by burglary, theft, road traffic offences that cause serious injury and offences resulting from anti-social behaviour.

He told delegates from 44 support organisation that victims must no longer be silent partners in the criminal process.

"It flies in the face of justice to shut victims of crime out of the very process that is designed to address the wrongs they have suffered," he said. "Giving victims a real voice in the criminal process is vital because it contributes to dignity, self-esteem and the potential for moving on with one's life.

"The Bill will seek to ensure that the victim who is traumatised by the original crime will not experience significant additional pain because of the perceived indifference and blindness of the system," he added.

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