VS responds to Sentencing Council guidelines
11 February 2016
Victim Support responds to the Sentencing Council’s proposal re: stricter rules for sentencing offenders who plead guilty.
Lucy Hastings, Director at independent charity Victim Support, said:
“Our charity knows how traumatic it can be to give evidence in court, so we support these proposals which encourage offenders to plead guilty earlier and spare their victims and witnesses an unnecessary ordeal in court.
“However, it is critical that this process is properly explained to victims and that their right to describe, through a Victim Personal Statement, the impact of the crime they suffered is recognised and respected by police, prosecutors and the courts.
“The impact of any new guidelines should also be closely monitored, to ensure that earlier guilty pleas are indeed resulting in more victims and witnesses knowing at an earlier stage that they will not have to go through the potential trauma of a court appearance.”
Notes to editor
- Victim Support has undertaken extensive research* into victims’ and witnesses’ experiences of attending court and found that:
- Most witnesses are anxious about going to court and feel it to be an unknown and intimating environment.
- Many victims and witnesses worry about coming face-to-face with the defendant(s) and fear possible reprisals for giving evidence.
- Victims and witnesses are frustrated about long waiting times which are at a 15 year high in the Crown Court. Long waiting times lead to stress and anxiety as well as practical difficulties relating to work and childcare arrangements.**
- The formal and legal language of the court room as well as the use of wigs and gowns can alienate victims and witnesses and leave them confused.
- The courts system is adversarial and cross examination can be a nerve wrecking and challenging experience for victims and witnesses.
- Victims and witnesses often feel marginalised in the process due to a lack of information about the progress of their trial.
A Victim Personal Statement gives victims the opportunity to put on record and in their own words the impact that the crime has had on them and their family. It can play a key part in sentencing by conveying to the court the physical and psychological harm caused by an offence, one of several factors that must be taken into consideration when passing a sentence.
All victims who report a crime to the police have the right to make a Victim Personal Statement, however CPS figures show that over a third of victims are not offered the opportunity to do so.
* Victim Support research: Out of the Shadows
** Victim Support research: Waiting for Justice: How victims of crime are waiting longer than ever for criminal trials