Lawyers warn victims could play up ordeals to boost pay-out

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The Independent Online

Plans to allow victims of crime to tell courts how their ordeal affected them emotionally and physically were criticised yesterday by lawyers, who warned that they could exaggerate the impact to gain extra compensation.

Plans to allow victims of crime to tell courts how their ordeal affected them emotionally and physically were criticised yesterday by lawyers, who warned that they could exaggerate the impact to gain extra compensation.

Jack Straw, the Home Secretary, yesterday outlined a national scheme to give victims of all crimes a chance to voice their concerns to judges and magistrates. From next year, all victims will be offered the chance to make a written Victim Personal Statement about how the crime has impacted on their lives. Families of victims who have been killed, parents of child victims and small businesses will also be able to make statements under the scheme for England and Wales. When passing sentence, judges and magistrates are expected to take into account how severely the victim has been affected.

Mr Straw said the scheme should result in courts meting out "tougher punishments" and making "communities safer".

But Bruce Houlder, QC, of the Bar Council, which represents barristers in England and Wales, warned: "We have one concern: judges will need to be careful to prevent attempts by victims to pump up the sentence through exaggeration or vindictively false claims - when compensation is in the air this can happen."

The Law Society, which represents solicitors in England and Wales, urged politicians "not to turn this into a party political matter."

Mr Straw argued: "If it is physical damage, then that is taken properly into account by the court and reflected in the charges. If it is emotional or psychological damage, it is hardly taken into account at all.

"What I am doing is... bringing the effect on the victim to the attention of the court, so that the court has the full range of information about the scale of the crime." He added: "What this is about is rebalancing the system. Why shouldn't people's deep emotional scarring as a result of a crime be taken into account?"

The Tory home affairs spokesman, David Lidington, accused Mr Straw of stealing Conservative clothes with his plan. He wrote to Mr Straw claiming the victim statement idea was included in the June 1996 Victims' Charter, which laid out plans for pilot projects.