Victims of crime in England and Wales are to be given the opportunity to speak about their experiences in courtrooms.
A new victims code states that people who have been subjected to crime now have the right to directly explain to offenders in court the impact that a crime has had on them and their families.
At present, the tradition is that judges read a victim’s personal statement in private with only parts being read aloud in the courtroom.
John Sandwell, from Support After Murder and Manslaughter Merseyside (SAMM), said his group is “delighted” that the new code has finally been published after several years of hoping for it.
“Victims will feel more part of the justice system instead of feeling pushed out,” he told JMU Journalismm, adding that the new code will give victims a louder voice and make the police, courts and other agencies more responsive to their needs.
Ministers agree, saying the move will “make sure victims’ voices are heard”. However the Labour Party has called the code “toothless”.
Judges claim to take personal statements into consideration when determining the length of a sentence. But the Ministry of Justice says only 9% of victims know they are entitled to make a statement. The new code will explain to all victims that they are entitled to make a statement.
Sandwell encouraged victims to talk to SAMM, explaining how it is important to talk about a person you may have lost as a result of crime. SAMM will help victims, if they wish, in writing their personal statements, he said.
Javed Khan, chief executive of Victim Support, said: “We speak to more than a million victims of crime every year and know how often they feel left on the sidelines.
“Setting out what they can expect, accessibly and clearly, will go a long way towards ensuring victims do not feel like an afterthought in the criminal justice process.
“We look forward to working with the police, the courts and other criminal justice agencies to ensure they recognise and respect the new rights of victims and witnesses, and in doing so deliver a better service for people affected by crime.”