Belfast Telegraph

Friday 25 July 2014

Victims can confront criminals

Victims' Commissioner Baroness Helen Newlove, whose husband Garry was killed by a gang, welcomed a new code enabling crime victims to confront offenders in court

Victims of crime are to be allowed for the first time to directly confront the offenders who damaged their lives in court.

Under a new code, victims will be able to choose to explain to the court and offender how a crime has hit them through reading out a Victim Personal Statement.

Judges will then take this in to account when determining the sentence, the Ministry of Justice said.

National policing lead on victims and witnesses Assistant Chief Constable Gary Cann said the move would "ensure that victims have a voice in the criminal justice system".

Up until now, judges have read personal statements in private with only fragments read aloud to the court by prosecutors.

Victims are able to participate in the sentencing process in almost all common law countries.

In emotional scenes earlier this year in the US, one of the victims of Cleveland kidnapper Ariel Castro was able to confront her aggressor in court after being freed from more than a decade of captivity .

Michelle Knight told Castro: "You took 11 years of my life away, and now I have it back."

Elsewhere, the new Victims' Code will also for the first time give businesses, who are victims of 9.2 million crimes committed each year, the chance to write an impact statement.

Javed Khan, chief executive of independent charity Victim Support, said: "We warmly welcome this decision which gives victims the choice to explain to a court in their own words the personal and emotional impacts a crime has had on them and their families, a process we know can help victims cope and recover from crime.

"We believe the new code for victims is a big step towards making the criminal justice system truly responsive to the needs of victims and we look forward to working with Government, the police, courts and other partners to ensure it is effectively implemented."

The code also explains how to navigate the criminal justice system, what they can expect from the moment they report a crime to the end of a trial and who to demand help from if it is not provided.

The statutory Victims' Code will also ensure all victims are automatically referred to victims' service by the police and are given a clearer means of compensation if they are not given support.

Victims' Commissioner Baroness Newlove, whose husband Garry was killed by a gang vandalising his car, said: " I welcome the revised Victims' Code which helps clarify the rights of victims and the levels of service they should expect.

"The onus is now on criminal justice agencies to deliver on their promises.

"As Victims' Commissioner I will be championing those who take their commitments under the Code seriously and challenging those who don't.

"With responsibility must come accountability and I will be working alongside agencies to ensure that all victims get the support and quality of care they deserve.

"No victim should have to fight for the right to be treated with dignity, sensitivity and respect."

The Victims' Code will come in to force in December.

Victims' Minister Damian Green said: " I want to create a tougher justice system.

"Under this Government those who break the law are more likely to go to prison for longer. I'm making sure victims' voices are heard and that criminals no longer get away with just a slap on the wrist."

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