Judges to consider victims of crime

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The Independent Online
JUDGES are to be asked to take into account the effect of crime on victims when passing sentence, Michael Howard, the Home Secretary, disclosed yesterday.

New national standards to be published shortly would ensure that pre-sentence reports contained a section on the effect of the crime on the victim and that this was 'taken into account in sentencing', he said.

The move follows the murder investigation after the killing of Rachel Nickell on Wimbledon Common in 1992, which has sharpened public concern over the treatment of victims. After murder charges against Colin Stagg collapsed last week, Ms Nickell's father said: 'At every stage it seems the defendant has the advantage. Why has this situation arisen when society seems to care less for the victims and their families?'

Mr Howard told BBC Radio 4's Today programme the Government was putting into practice recommendations made by the Royal Commission on Criminal Justice. He said the Home Office wanted to make sure victims were kept informed as the criminal process unfolded. 'We want to make sure their views are taken into account, for example in decisions on bail. I'm confident the place of the victim in our system will be increasingly recognised in the very near future.'

It is the second time Mr Howard has pledged to help crime victims. Last September he said they should be made to feel they were 'at the heart and not the edge of the justice system' as he raised the limit on compensation to victims for injury and loss from pounds 2,000 to pounds 5,000, and revised rules for seeking their views before sentencing.

At a meeting with representatives of the pressure group Justice for Victims, Mr Howard was told that the system was still inadequate. But other groups were more cautious. Victim Support warned that if 'victim impact statements' were heard in court they could form the grounds of an appeal in which the victim was forced to give evidence.

Nickell case review, page 6