The purpose of Victim Personal Statements is to give victims a voice in the criminal justice process, so they can say how the crime has affected them and express their concerns about the case and the offender.
I know from working on murder inquiries how important a VPS is to a victim’s family and how much time, effort and emotion is put into every single word of these very personal statements.
There is a BBC Radio 4 drama available on the Internet called Porcelain, which tells the story of the trial of those accused of killing 20-year-old Sophie Lancaster.
If you want to gain an insight into how important a VPS is to victims, then I would urge you to listen to it. You will hear the very emotional account of how Sylvia Lancaster, Sophie’s mother, prepared a VPS for the sentencing hearing of her daughters killers, but was then told by the judge that there would not be the time for her to read it out in court.
It truly is heartbreaking to listen to how she describes the impact of that thoughtless decision on herself.
Recently the parents of a murder victim, immediately after they had just read out their statement, overheard a judge say that a VPS made no difference to a parole judgement. The judge’s words were not intended as public comments and were only heard because a microphone link had been inadvertently left open.
However, the parents were not critical of the judge’s comments, as he was trying to be sympathetic and raise the issue as to why victim’s families were being put through this very emotional ordeal, when what they have to say is unlikely to influence the outcome of a parole hearing.
It needs to be properly clarified whether a VPS delivered at any stage of the criminal justice system is capable of greatly influencing a judicial decision, especially in terms of bail, sentencing or parole.
If a VPS can make a difference then surely it would be better, for everyone concerned, for that to be set out in simple, practical and easy to understand terms.
Recent events appear to indicate that judges have little room for manoeuvre and that a VPS only provides an opportunity for a victim to publicly explain the impact of a crime, in the presence of the offender. If that is the case then that should be made clear.