Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 25 October 2014

Rich 'protected more than victims'

Victims' tsar Louise Casey has called for a levelled system to assist bereaved families and increase equality among different income groups

The current courts system protects the rich and wealthy more than it does the families of murder victims, the victims' tsar has said.

Louise Casey called for a new law to guarantee the rights of victims' families to help them cope better with the ordeal of going through the justice system.

Defendants' rights were already protected, she said, but while wealthy celebrities were pursuing injunctions to protect their privacy in the High Court, victims' families were being put through traumatic ordeals in the witness box.

The report comes after Milly Dowler's family hit out at the "horrifying ordeal" of her murder trial last month, which made members of her family feel as if they were the ones in the dock.

Ms Casey said: "If the message that comes out of the Dowler family's case is that 'It's such a horrific experience, don't do it', then actually our system needs to be looked at."

She said it was not the public's job to distinguish between civil and criminal cases and that victims must be able to report a crime, give a statement without intimidation and go into a courtroom and give evidence. She also called for judges to consider reporting restrictions or even clear the court if necessary.

A survey of more than 400 bereaved families, thought to be the largest of its kind, found that one in five included someone who suffered alcohol problems following the death.

Four in five suffered trauma-related symptoms and the same proportion had to wait for more than a month to bury their loved ones, the poll showed.

Around three in five also suffered difficulties managing their finances, with the average cost to families hitting £37,000, ranging from probate to funerals to cleaning up the crime scene. Most got no help and some were forced into debt, she said.

Ms Casey added: "Bereaved families have few rights, no real route of complaint, they are often given little information and sometimes treated as an inconvenience in a legal game. The system must be levelled up so victims and bereaved families are no longer seen as bystanders or an inconvenience as the wheels of justice turn."

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