Statement from the Victims' Commissioner about Victim Personal Statements
This week saw an extraordinary case, where the defendant was allowed to edit the Victim Personal Statement (VPS) made by the parents of a child he had killed in an extreme criminal episode of dangerous driving. It involved a stolen car with a cloned key being driven at over 80 miles an hour by someone who then fled to Amsterdam in order to evade arrest.
The defendant’s barrister objected to the parents reading out their full impact statement and argued that the defendants would find it too upsetting. The judge accepted that, so the CPS barrister gave the parents a copy of the VPS with the parts that they could not read out in open court highlighted.
A VPS is how the criminal justice system offers the opportunity to victims of crime to express how they have been affected by what has happened. This can be cathartic, to know that the court and through it society has heard what they have suffered. It can help, in particular, bereaved people, to feel that they have done their best, in speaking up for their lost loved one. This is the point of a VPS.
How can it be appropriate for the defendant, who has caused their pain, to be able to edit out the bits he doesn’t want to hear? Victims must be entitled to say what they have suffered without this interference. Presumably, he can leave court if he doesn’t want to hear or simply not listen. It must be unbearable indeed for victims to be told by the court that, in effect, it prefers to protect the feelings of the person who has killed their child than to allow them to express their own.
The judge apparently remarked that he had no power to prevent the defence from editing the statement. Yet Criminal Practice Directions Amendment No.1 issued on 10 December 2013 says the VPS may be read out in whole or in part or it may be summarised at the discretion of the court. This court is required to take into account the victims preferences, which will be followed unless there are good reasons not to do, for instance if the content is inadmissible.
Marie Rimmer, the MP who raised this case in a debate in the House of Commons, was of the view this was not an isolated incident and that other victims had been required to do the same.
Since that is so, the issue is of wider application. That means as Victims’ Commissioner, whilst I can’t take on individual cases, it becomes my role, in championing victims’ rights as statute requires, to get involved to try to ensure that there is no repetition.