Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Victim impact statements: credit where credit's due

Regular readers of this blog may be surprised to know that I think New Labour has done some good things in its nine and a half years in power - the minimum wage, devolution to Scotland and Wales, the restoration of London-wide governance, for instance. The problem is that most of the good things were done in the first couple of years and since then the Government's radicalism has been in short supply.

An exception, though, has to be made for the introduction of Victim Impact Statements, allowing those affected by crime to address judges prior to convicted offenders being sentenced.

I defy anyone not to be moved by the statement from Adele Eastman, fiancee of 31-year-old lawyer Tom ap Rhys Price, who was stabbed to death outside his home in North London. The scum who killed him were duly caged for life with minimum sentences of 17 and 21 years respectively.

Well done Tony. For once, you have managed to make good your oft-made pledge to "put the victim at the heart of the criminal justice system."

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G Eagle Esq said...

Dear Paul

Tom was a relative - murder has come close to my door in a highly personalized manner

Perhaps Tom would still be alive, if his Murderers had faced the expectation that they would have been hanged for his Murder

The abolition of the Death Penalty certainly did not provide any adequate deterrent to his Murderers - they knew that whosever's lives were at risk from their activities, it was not going to be their lives

It is just one of the dishonesties of our Criminal System to describe them as having a Life Sentence - they could well be at liberty by the time they reach 40

The only individuals serving a Life Sentence are the Victim Tom's relatives

Your obedient servant etc


Richard Bailey said...

Having just read the first comment, I should probably stop here before I offend anyone, but I won't.

A well educated, possibly public school educated, young woman makes an impassioned and emotional statement to the Court and the Judge concerning the impact of this crime on her life. But I hope the Judge took absolutely no notice in sentencing.

Not everyone can express themselves as beautifully as Ms Adele, but whilst I am sure there will be plenty of lawyers on hand to help those with less command of the English language and those more emotionally repressed, no murder is ever more or less important just because of the impact it leaves behind. A human life is just that, whether you are a princess, a policeman, a nurse or a prostitute.

Mr Eagle is right. The criminal justice system would truly take a step in the right direction when it pursues criminals with a ceaseless vigour, punishes people properly for their crimes, provides a deterrence to others.

I am not personally convinced by the re-introduction of the death penalty but whilst the law fundamentally betrays us, and whilst I can well believe that the delivery of such a statement is a valuable and cathartic process, I simply can't give credit to such a shallow and meaningless gimmick.

If you are convicted of taking a life by act of murder, you should pay with your liberty and life should mean life.

That would be radical and that would be putting the victim at the heart of the justice system.

james higham said...

You're in a distinct minority, Paul, which is not to say you're wrong. You say, for example, that devolution was a positive when I always thought it was a negative. Now I'll have to rethink some things. As for the victim policy, it seems sound, does it not?

Praguetory said...

First of all, deepest sympathies G Eagle and all of your family.

It is highly shocking that these killers were allowed seemingly unchecked to carry out repeated armed robberies on our underground. Personally, I think that the family have a strong case to sue the Home Office for dereliction of duty/negligence.

Makes me ask what all these extra police/DNA databases/CC cameras are for? With knife crime increasing 78% in a year in London I'd argue that having less victims is a more pressing priority of the criminal justice system than victim support.

cassilis said...

I'd echo the condolences to G Eagle and family but also Richard's very wise words - I can't agree with you here Paul.

It's precisely the eloquence and emotion in Ms Eastman's comment that illustrate why this is a dangerous and fundamentally flawed idea. Blair's neat soundbite about the victim being at the heart of the criminal justice system is shockingly naive for someone with his legal background - pure justice alone should be at the heart of the system.

Would we expect a judge to issue a more lenient sentence to the murderer of someone who's family appeared ambivelent about their loss?

Richard Bailey said...

That is a fabulously eloquent final paragraph, Cassilis.

As a matter of interest, Paul, the one thing this Government has done that I do admire is Restorative Justice. This is where criminals and their victims are brought together during the sentence period. Both parties have to want to go through with it and agree to do so and I believe it can have a positive impact on parole.

When I was in the Lord Chancellor's press office, I went with Lord Falconer to Newcastle to meet some victims who had been through it. They all reported that their assailants really did eventually comprehend something of the impact of their crimes.

I do not denigrate these ideas and projects. I just don't believe they should be allowed to distract from the real priority of reducing crime and ultimately the need for them.

Paul Linford said...

A well educated, possibly public school educated, young woman

Goodness gracious Richard, is that inverted snobbery I see before me ;-)?

G Eagle Esq said...

For Richard & Cassilis


Thank you for your (as ever) incisive & perceptive observations - at least I leave your comments better informed - but I flatter myself that there is one point on which our views do not coincide

You are perhaps too young (Paul is probably too young, the Eagle snarled enviously) to remember the disgraceful Ealing Vicarage Rape case, where a young lady was multiply-raped & multiply-buggered & she witnessed the skulls of her Father & a Visitor being fractured

The Crime was appalling enough ... what was even worse was the smug & out-of-touch Judge who (in the absence of any Victim-Impact Statement) made a series of offensive remarks

eg along the lines that the Victim was a Christian and she would find it easy to forgive - therefore, what happened to her was not so bad

eg he gave a trivial sentence for the rape (5 years) - admittedly a further 5 years was added for the burglary

Of course in our mendacious legal system, 5 yearss did not mean 5 years, just as that great lie "Life" does not mean life

All the then Lord Chancellor (Lord Hailsham) had the grace & arrogance to say was that "unjustified criticism of Judges was undermining the rule of law"

This was patently not true - it was entirely justified criticism that was undermining the rule of law

... and I thought things could not get worse ... and then along came Lord Mackay and Lord Irving, eminently qualified to be Lord Chancellor as Mr Blair's former Chambers-master & with an expensive taxpayer-funded taste in wallpaper & costly tables

I would invite you to reconsider your suggestion that the Victim should in Court be required to be totally silent and without any voice whatsoever

These Murderers had highly-paid QCs & barristers to ensure that their voices were heard fully & amply

With respect, it is outrageous & offensive to Justice that, in contrast to the rights of the Wrong-Doer, you should seek to deny the Innocent Victim any voice whatsoever in court

It is clear that we certainly cannot rely on either Judges or Prosecutors to represent the Victim fully and adequately

You might also reconsider any suggestion that this young lady & indeed all her fellow Victims of Murder should not have any right to be heard in Court, simply because she herself had the misfortune to produce such a moving statement

I have the honour to remain your obedient servant and

Yours ever


David Gladwin said...

Am I the only person in Britain who thinks that Victim Impact Statements are a pointless piece of window-dressing?

The law is the law, and sentencing guidelines already exist, so what on earth is the point of having such statements presented?

Are we saying that the law must now become elastic, so that those who present more heart-rending statements will see greater "justice" done?

I would direct readers to Act 1, Scene 1 of King Lear.

Nothing will come of nothing. Speak again.