“Myself and my family have suffered life-changing trauma,” a domestic abuse victim tells The Independent. “Following the attack, I am unable to work due to my injuries and live in paralysing fear of what will happen when he is released in eight years.”
The victim, who cannot be named to protect her safety, was stabbed repeatedly and had her throat cut by her violent ex-partner. She was lucky to survive the brutal attack after being rushed to hospital and put in an induced coma before undergoing a series of operations.
Her ex-partner was jailed for life - but with a minimum term of only eight years - in March. The domestic abuse victim has now been told she has missed her chance to appeal his sentence but was never told she had the right to do so under the Unduly Lenient Sentencing scheme. Instead, police inaccurately told her she was unable to appeal his sentence because “a life sentence is the maximum”.
“The lack of information and resources immediately after the sentencing meant that I never knew I could appeal,” says victim, who did not want to be named. “I was given no guidance or encouragement and told to be happy with a life sentence, even if he walks out in only eight years. This has been devastating for everyone and I hope that what has happened to me never happens to anyone else.”
The case is far from unique, according to London’s Independent Victims’ Commissioner, Claire Waxman. She tells The Independent too many victims are wholly unaware they have a right to appeal their perpetrator’s sentence.
Ms Waxman has called for the government to amend the policing bill so it introduces a statutory duty for victims to be “clearly” informed about the scheme and the 28-day deadline they must apply by.
“Too few victims are aware of their right to request the appeal of a sentencing decision through the Unduly Lenient Sentence scheme, and lack of information post-sentencing continues to severely impact victims and bereaved families,” Ms Waxman says.
“I know of cases where victims haven’t been told about the scheme, given enough information on how to apply, or have faced unreasonable barriers from the criminal justice system when they try to access this, as is their right.”
Ms Waxman is demanding more “flexibility” around the deadline for victims to apply to appeal. “This flexibility is already afforded to the offender, and so victims deserve an equal right,” she added.
Ms Waxman is urging the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, which has been widely criticised for rolling back human rights, to also be changed so sanctions are introduced if victims are not told about their right to apply for the Unduly Lenient Sentencing scheme.
The controversial policing legislation, which has passed all stages in the House of Commons without significant amendment, is currently being debated in the Lords before being signed into law.
She says victims should be allowed to apply for the scheme later than the 28-day deadline in instances where the courts and the police do not notify in time - adding there will be other specific contexts whereby an extension is needed. The Unduly Lenient Sentencing scheme gives victims the chance to have sentences reviewed if they are deemed too lenient.
Baroness Newlove, the ex-Victims’ Commissioner, who is backing the amendment in the House of Lords, adds: “The Unduly Lenient Sentencing Scheme provides the fundamental right to request an appeal for a sentence, in order to help victims and their families feel that their voices or the voices of their loved ones are still part of the criminal justice system.
“Trust and confidence in the criminal justice process is waning and for some even rock bottom. The system cannot continue time and time again to keep failing these victims and their families. This vital information for many arrives far too late or for some victims, they are even not aware at all.”
She says the amendment to the legislation strives to make sure victims are notified of “their right in good time to allow vulnerable victims to digest”.
“We must stop victims being failed by the justice system,” Baroness Newlove says. “Shockingly low sentences are going unchallenged, and victims and their families continue to suffer as a result.”
Between two and three women are murdered each week by their partners or ex-partners in England and Wales, while one in four women will suffer domestic abuse at some point during their lives.
“The extension to the 28 days is vital, particularly for those like myself who never knew it was an option,” says the abuse victim who spoke to The Independent. “I can only hope that for others going forward they do not have to live with the fear that I do. It is traumatic enough having to deal with what happened, to be unsupported and not told of my options was another blow.”
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