Howard calls for greater emphasis on victims' needs: Sentences 'should reflect the effect of crime'. Patricia Wynn Davies reports

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The Independent Online
MICHAEL Howard, the Home Secretary, yesterday highlighted better support for crime victims as one of his most important responsibilities.

The pledge, in a speech to the Justices' Clerks Society, was combined with a call to sentencers to pay 'particular attention' to the effect of a crime on the victim before passing sentence.

Mr Howard also told the society's conference in Torquay, Devon, that the belief that nothing could be done about crime would give rise to the risk of a rise in vigilantism and citizens taking the law into their own hands. 'We must never let that happen,' he said.

Before making his speech, the Home Secretary told reporters that he was 'deeply concerned about the case of Malcolm Albrighton, who died after confronting burglars in Warwickshire.

He was also 'distressed', he said, that passengers on a weekend Southport-Liverpool train took no action to help young girls being attacked in a carriage.

He said it was difficult to lay down a single rule about public intervention that could apply in all circumstances.

But he confirmed to the justices' clerks - legally qualified advisers to lay JPs - that the Government was considering measures to ensure that pre-sentencing reports compiled by probation officers place greater emphasis on the effect of offences on victims.

Although victims could not have a role in deciding what sentence was appropriate, victims should have a 'more prominent' place in the criminal process itself, he said. Much could also be done to ensure better treatment for victims and witnesses at court, including explaining in advance what will be expected of them, warning of matters that might cause distress, and ensuring that court listings were not exclusively arranged for the convenience of lawyers.

The Home Secretary steered away from the potential financial implications of better victim care, however, making no commitment, for example, over one of the most commonly raised complaints - lack of separate waiting areas.

The lack of separate facilities can lead to victims of serious crimes such as rape sitting in the same waiting room as sometimes abusive members of the accused's family, and is a regular feature of MPs' postbags.

'In some courts at least, separate waiting areas can be provided,' Mr Howard said.

While highlighting the 'substantially increased' resources for Victim Support, the victims' charity, he likewise stayed off the controversial topic of the Government's replacement of the criminal injuries compensation scheme with a tariff system likely to lead to lower awards in many cases.