A new code allowing victims to read out their own impact statements in court may make little difference to the victims or to sentencing, according to a leading barrister.
The new victim’s code recently introduced by the government gives victims the right to explain in their own words how a crime has affected them.
Defence Barrister, Oscar Del Fabbro said: ‘There is a big question mark in my mind whether it helps the victims to have their feelings read out in court.’
‘Sometimes victims don’t want their private feelings to be broadcast all over the newspapers. I don’t know why the government thinks that every victim wants the world to know how they feel about an offence, some offences are very personal.’
Oscar Del Fabbro
For critics like Del Fabbro actual cases, such as a recent particularly harrowing one at Winchester Crown Court, illustrate the point.
In the case, Paul Kent, 37, of no fixed abode was jailed for 19 years after he was convicted of 20 offences including nine counts of rape. Kent was guilty of sexually abusing a number of women in the Basingstoke area over a span of eight years.
The victims were praised by Judge Guy Boney for their ‘courage’ to relive the ‘humiliating and degrading’ nature of the attack.
None of the victims chose to read their impact statements in court. But they listened in the public gallery, many crying, with their families as the barrister read out their words. One victim said, ‘she felt worthless’ and attempted suicide. Another victim said she suffered nightmares and ‘every time she closed her eyes she would see Paul Kent’s face’.
Afterwards, officer in the case, Detective Constable Louise Trigg said: ‘They [the victims] are just extremely brave, because to go through that in the first place must be awful, but to then relive it and talk about it in front of people you don’t know and be judged on what you’re saying and questioned about it must be absolutely horrific, but they were all strong.’ she said.
The Victims Minister, Damian Green said that victims are considered as the ‘afterthought’ in the court process, but Del Fabbro disagrees.
He said: ‘The victim of a crime has always been in the middle of the case, how can they say that? It is just such nonsense, it is such political claptrap.’
‘There is indeed a risk that such an exercise does raise an unrealistic expectation on the part of the victim with consequences for them when they perceive it was all in vain. It is critically important that victims’ expectations are properly managed from the outset in this regard,’ he said.
Victim Support worker, Carolyn Martin said ‘victims didn’t seem to expect anymore’, but she feels that the new changes are positive: ‘I think this will help our other partners in the criminal justice agencies – the police, the CPS, the courts – hopefully it will make them even more aware of victims and what they go through and how important they are.’ More HERE.
Justice Gap reporter and journalism student at the University of Winchester