In the Media

'Hear victims' families in court'

PUBLISHED June 26, 2006

The families of homicide victims should be given the chance to have their voice heard in court before their killers are sentenced, Lord Chancellor Lord Falconer said.

Five pilot schemes are getting under way in which "victim's advocates" will be allowed to make a statement to the judge to explain how the death has affected the family.

The scheme, which could be rolled out to the whole of England and Wales if it proves successful, is being seen as part of Prime Minister Tony Blair's efforts to "rebalance" the criminal justice system in favour of victims.

Lord Falconer said that at present families have no voice following conviction, and feel "excluded" from the judicial process.

Judges will be able to take the families' statements into account when handing down punishments, if they have a bearing on sentencing practices or guidelines, he said.

"The one group of people who have no voice after somebody is convicted of the crime of murder or manslaughter is the family of the victim," Lord Falconer told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

Victims' families are already allowed to present a written statement to the judge, he said.

But he asked: "Should they also be given the opportunity to say something orally through a lawyer? We think that's fair. Let's see how it works in the five trial areas.

"They are the people most affected by it and they feel, when I speak to the families, disempowered and excluded from the process. It's a process that leaves people feeling excluded if they don't have a voice."

Lord Falconer defended Mr Blair's call on Friday for a new "mindset" in the criminal justice system, giving priority to victims' rights over those of suspects. Mr Blair was not attacking judges in his comments, but was reflecting the fact that the system must constantly be reformed to keep pace with the changing face of crime, he said.