We need to think again about the effect of Victim Personal Statements on sentencing

How much should sentencing judges rely on a victim’s assessment of the harm they have suffered in a crime?

The issue was highlighted earlier this week when 27 year old Pavel Grushin arrived at Croydon Magistrates Court expecting to be sentenced for offences of sexual assault and common assault he committed at a party in the Royal Festival Hall last December. He was not legally represented, possibly thinking to himself “why bother with a solicitor” when the sentencing guideline suggested a community order, or at worst a short, and very probably suspended, prison sentence.

But District Judge Julie Cooper did not sentence him. Instead she sent the case to the Crown Court where he faces a theoretical maximum sentence of 7 years and a probable sentence of around two and a half years imprisonment. “I suggest you instruct a solicitor” she told Mr Grushin, “you will need it.”

In itself there is nothing especially unusual about that. Thousands of cases are sent from the Magistrates Court to the Crown Court for sentence every year. Your attitude might well be, so what? He’s just another drunken letch who thoroughly deserves to be locked up for as long as possible. Why should we care?

The answer is that if you want sentencing to be carried out fairly and dispassionately over-reliance on Victim Personal Statements (sometimes called “Victim Impact Statements”) has the potential to cause serious injustice.

These statements, setting out the effect that a crime has had on its victim, have become ever more ubiquitous at sentencing hearings over the last twenty or so years. They are sometimes drafted by the victim, perhaps more often by a police officer in consultation with the victim. Sometimes they can be very moving documents. Sometimes they can seem formulaic and predictable, although of course no-one would ever dream of saying so. Often they are out of date or so sparse as to be inconsequential. Occasionally they can be startling and unexpected as when the bereaved relative of someone killed by a driver pleads for a lenient sentence.

Before we come to that more general point on the dangers of victim personal statements, what had Mr Grushin done?

His victim, a 33 year old woman, described what happened at the earlier trial, which had been conducted in front of a different District Judge:

He very quickly walked towards me and tried to corner me, with his arms raised and using his body so I couldn’t get around him.

His eyes were very glazed over and he seemed to be enjoying himself and I was immediately very frightened by his demeanour and expression.

His motive seemed sexual. I was afraid for my safety.

He followed me out of the lift and grabbed my right wrist very, very tightly and pulled me in his direction, back towards the lift.

He said: “Come on,” a few times and I just kept saying: “No,” loudly, firmly and very clearly.

To escape, I kept walking backwards and his mouth was puckered as if leaning in for a kiss and I placed my hand on his chest to push him away as he leaned in three times to kiss me.

I firmly pushed with all my body strength and he stumbled back and stopped.

Afterwards I burst into tears and there was a big red mark on my wrist, like a Chinese burn.”

The reports do not make clear whether Mr Grushin was legally represented at the trial, though given his current lack of representation it seems unlikely. His defence was that he “absolutely did not touch her,” although he admitted that he might have “friendly patted her.”

His chances at the trial had not been improved by telling the officers who arrested him that she might have been attracted to him, adding “look at me,” and referring to his Instagram account where, he said, there were pictures of him “hanging out with cool people.” There are indeed: it contains pictures of Mr Grushin in happier times posing not only with Russian double gold-medallist pole-vaulter Elena Isinbaeva but also with the former Bank of England Governor Mark Carney (undoubtedly a somewhat cooler figure than his reassuringly grey successor).

For the offence of sexual assault (the common assault fades into irrelevance) there is a formal sentencing guideline which judges must, except in very rare cases, follow. There is no suggestion that this is one of the exceptional cases where the guideline should not apply.

It categorises the offence into levels of seriousness depending on the degrees of “culpability” and “harm.” There are 3 levels of harm (numbered 1 – 3) and two levels of culpability (labelled A and B). It sounds rather complicated when you try to explain it but it is in fact quite straightforward in practice, albeit there are often arguments over which category a particular offence falls into.

Everyone was agreed that Mr Grushin’s case fell into the lower level (“B”) for culpability. That was because there were no features such as “a significant degree of planning” or “abuse of trust.”

The “harm” classification must have appeared almost as straightforward.

The Guideline sets out the criteria for each level of “harm,” Category 1 being the most serious. Before the trial everyone was agreed that the case fell into the lowest category.

Category 1

  • Severe psychological or physical harm
  • Abduction
  • Violence or threats of violence
  • Forced/uninvited entry into victim’s home

None of these seemed applicable. There was no suggestion that “severe physical harm” had been sustained and no evidence was given of psychological harm; in fact it would have been unusual for any such evidence to have been given since “harm” of any kind is not something that the prosecution need to prove in a sex case. There was no abduction or uninvited entry into the victim’s home: the incident took place in a public place, either in or just outside a lift at the Royal Festival Hall. The grabbing of the victim’s wrist, horrible and frightening though it must have been, is hardly the sort of “violence” envisaged by the guidelines in the context of an offence of sexual assault, which by definition always involves unwanted touching.

Category 2

  • Touching of naked genitalia or naked breasts
  • Prolonged detention/sustained incident
  • Additional degradation/humiliation
  • Victim is particularly vulnerable due to personal circumstances

There had been no such touching even over clothing. The incident appears to have been over fairly quickly and until recently there had been no reason to suppose that the victim was “particularly vulnerable.”

Category 3

  • Factor(s) in categories 1 and 2 not present

Thus up to, and in the immediate aftermath of, the trial Mr Grushin’s offence appeared to be in Category 3B, the lowest level of both harm and culpability.

The guideline “starting point” for a 3B offence of sexual assault is a “high level community order.” Typically, that might involve an order to carry out unpaid work for 200 or more hours, coupled perhaps with some sort of probation activity, although the guideline encompasses a range up to and including 26 weeks imprisonment. These were all sentences which the Magistrates Court had the power to impose. Believing that they had adequate powers of sentencing, the Magistrates (or District Judge) accepted jurisdiction and did not exercise their power to send the case to the Crown Court for trial. Mr Grushin could have himself elected trial by jury – many people in his shoes would have done so – but he decided against it.

So although his trial had not gone well, the absolute worst that Mr Grushin would have anticipated following his conviction was a 26 week prison sentence. Even that could have been suspended, and very well might have been, given his lack of previous convictions.

So why then did DJ Cooper decide that her sentencing powers were inadequate and send the case to the Crown Court?

The reason was that shortly before the planned sentencing hearing she was presented with a Victim Personal Statement from the woman whom Mr Grushin had assaulted. It revealed that since the incident she had suffered panic attacks and had had to leave her career, because it involved large crowds who often drank alcohol. She explained:

I was overwhelmed and the thought of facing members of the public with alcohol reminded me of December. I had flashbacks of this man trapping me in the lift and trying to grope me, or even worse try to rape me.

I hyperventilated and had a panic attack. I felt faint and had to lie down until my breathing returned to normal after ten to fifteen minutes. I never had panic attacks before and this added to my stress.”

She said that she had been prescribed sleeping pills, antidepressants and an inhaler to assist her breathing and had attended therapy sessions for sexual trauma.

I have had sleepless nights, I can’t shut this off and can’t sleep. … I had a nightmare about a man trying to break in and try to kiss me and this woke me up.”

In the view of DJ Cooper, the VPS demonstrated that she had in fact suffered “severe psychological harm.” If that was right, the original assessment of the case as belonging in Category 3 was wrong. Where “severe psychological harm” is caused the case falls into Category 1. Instead of the “starting point” of a community order for a 3B case, the “starting point” for a 1B case is 2 ½ years imprisonment. In other words, a sentence five times as long as the most severe possible sentence the Magistrates Court can impose. Just as important, a sentence of over 2 years imprisonment cannot be suspended.

There can be no legitimate criticism of DJ Cooper. Being psychologically unable to continue in one’s job, and suffering nearly a year of insomnia, nightmares and flashbacks could certainly be considered “severe” psychological harm. Since last year when the Court of Appeal decided a case called Chall [2019] EWCA Crim 865, the law has been clear: a judge does not need expert evidence to conclude that severe psychological harm has been suffered. She was entitled to find that “severe psychological harm” has been suffered on the basis of a Victim Impact Statement alone.

But has the decision in Chall placed too much responsibility in the hands of victims? Is there a danger that sentences will be higher where the victim can articulate their distress than in cases where the victim is inarticulate or simply reluctant to express their emotions in public?

Severe psychological harm” is itself a slippery concept. “Psychological harm” is not the same as “recognised psychiatric condition.” It is certainly not, in the view of the Court of Appeal, a medical issue at all:

When a sentencing guideline directs a sentencer to assess whether the victim of an offence has suffered severe psychological harm or to make any other assessment of the degree of psychological harm, a judge is not thereby being called upon to make a medical judgment. The judge is, rather, making a judicial assessment of the factual impact of the offence upon the victim. Thus, submissions to the effect that a judge who makes a finding of severe psychological harm is wrongly making an expert assessment without having the necessary expertise are misconceived. The judge is not seeking to make a medical decision as to where the victim sits in the range of clinical assessments of psychological harm, but rather is making a factual assessment as to whether the victim has suffered psychological harm and, if so, whether it is severe.”i

Put more shortly: “psychological harm” means “psychological harm,” and “severe psychological harm” means “severe psychological harm.” It is not, with respect, terribly helpful.

Because it is not seen as a medical issue the assessment of psychological harm does not require medical evidence. In fact, the Court of Appeal said, it does not require any evidence beyond that of the victim herself. It is “the sort of assessment which judges are accustomed to making.” In practice the written word of the victim is often the only evidence the judge has.

This places a great deal of responsibility on the victim. Their statements are not meant to offer any opinion on what the sentence should be (see Criminal Practice Direction VII F.2), and if they do so courts are not meant to pay any attention to those opinions. On the other hand, if a victim wants to increase the chances of a severe – or less often a lenient – sentence it is not difficult, at least for the knowledgeable and articulate, to word the statement accordingly.

And of course victims do not always write their own victim statements; they are often drafted by police officers. When the police are careful and conscientious that is fine, especially for victims who might find it difficult to express themselves, but there is always the danger that the officer’s own views on sentencing influencing the wording of the statement.

And the reality is that it is virtually impossible for a defendant to challenge the contents of a VPS. Indeed, the Court of Appeal recognised this in Chall:

Whilst the defence are entitled to cross-examine the author of a VPS, we agree with counsel’s submissions that it is a right which will only very rarely be exercised, for a number of obvious reasons, including the risk that the process of cross-examination may actually increase the psychological harm suffered.”

The Court rightly pointed out that the judge should

approach the assessment with appropriate care, in the knowledge that the level of sentence will be significantly affected by it, and will not reach such an assessment unless satisfied that it is correct.”

Yet unless the defence are able to challenge the victim’s impact statement, in most cases such a careful assessment is hardly possible; judges simply have to accept that the VPS is accurate. Except in a very clear case it would be a bold judge to publicly doubt the accuracy or veracity of what a victim says about the effect that the crime has had on them.

A case decided last August, Jones [2020] EWCA Crim 239, illustrated some of the dangers of giving the victim of a crime the responsibility of self-diagnosing “severe psychological harm.”

Mr Jones persuaded the victim to go to some secluded scrubland, ostensibly to sell him cannabis. Once safely out of reach of CCTV, Jones’s hooded accomplices appeared, armed with knives, and they proceeded to rob the victim and to pretend to rob Jones. The plan unravelled when Jones – originally treated by the police as a victim of the robbery – panicked and admitted that he had in fact been one of the organisers of the robbery. It was certainly a nasty crime, made worse by Mr Jones’s trickery and deception. However, for sentencing purposes it was important to determine whether his victim had suffered “serious psychological harm.”

A fortnight after the robbery, the victim gave a Victim Personal Statement to the police in which he said the robbery had been:

The most traumatic event of my whole life and left me with mental scars ….”

He described sleeplessness, nightmares and flashbacks. He no longer felt safe to go out in his own home town.

Before the robbery, I was enjoying life to the full, socialising with friends, loving college, going to the gym, cycling, learning to drive and looking forward to the future. Now I feel nervous and [wary] but I’m taking each day at a time and trying to be positive in order to get my life back on track.”

Just before the sentencing took place, a further note was given to the court, from a Witness Care Officer.

[The victim] would also like to add to his victim impact statement that he continues to suffer stress and anxiety as a result of the incident. He does not go out socialising, except for visiting friends at their homes. He only knows one of the offenders, so is very worried that whilst out he may come across them and he doesn’t know them.”

In reliance on this information the judge decided that the effect of the robbery had been “absolutely devastating”. He found that he had suffered “severe psychological harm,” and imposed a sentence based on the robbery sentencing guideline which, like the sexual assault guideline, required any robbery causing such harm to be placed in Category 1 for sentencing purposes. He received a sentence of 5 years detention in a young offenders’ institute.

Some time after he had been sentenced, his mother received information that the victim was in fact regularly going out into town, socialising with his friends, and working as a DJ (as a disc jockey not a District Judge). Some of his activities had been posted on social media. It was hard to reconcile this with the description of a severely traumatised partial-recluse that had been presented to the Crown Court.

Mr Jones appealed against his sentence, arguing that the sentencing judge’s finding of “severe psychological harm” was undermined by the evidence uncovered by his mother.

The Court of Appeal agreed, as tactfully as possible.

We are quite satisfied that [the victim’s] original victim statement faithfully articulated how he felt. Unfortunately, that was not a reliable indicator as to whether the harm he felt was likely to be long-standing. Happily, we consider that the updated information of the social media posts and the information provided by his mother gives cause for optimism that he will continue to return to a normal life and emerge fully from the shadow of this offence. … A substantial period of detention was clearly the only sentence available for the offence. But we are satisfied that this was not a case where, on the evidence, a conclusion that it caused serious psychological harm, in the sense that that term is used in the sentencing guidelines, can be sustained.

Mr Jones’s 5 year sentence was reduced to 3 years and 4 months.

In that case the Court actually had information to contradict that contained in the VPS. But that is very rarely the case in practice, and had it not been for Mr Jones’s mother’s private investigations

A victim can easily make things worse for her attacker by exaggerating the effects of the assault, in the reasonably confident expectation that the exaggeration will not be noticed. By the same token the stoical uncomplaining or simply inarticulate victim can give the false impression that in fact no great harm has been done. In some cases – and Mr Grushin’s appears to be one of them – the wording of a practically unchallengeable VPS can make the difference between a Community Order and a lengthy prison sentence. That does not seem to me to be just or fair to either victim or defendant.

I am not altogether sure what the solution to the problem should be. Perhaps the definition of “severe psychological harm” needs to be tightened: in other areas of the criminal law the courts have been strict in drawing a distinction between psychological injury resulting in a recognised illness and, ordinary emotions such as anxiety or depression: see R v. D [2006] EWCA Crim 1139. Perhaps the Court of Appeal’s view that proof of severe psychological harm does not require medical evidence should be reconsidered, or at the very least modified so that it requires more than the word of the victim.

It is obviously right that sentencing judges should take the effect of a crime on victims into account and Victim Personal Statements are now deeply embedded in sentencing law and practice. If nothing else, they provide victims of some crime with some assurance that their voices will be heard. We are of course a long way from those systems of law in which the word of a victim can mean the difference between a defendant’s death or his freedom. But we have drifted too far in that direction. Criminal justice requires objectivity, consistency and fairness to victims and to defendants. There is not enough of any of these in our current system of Victim Personal Statements.

 

i see Holroyde LJ in Chall at para 15

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Author: Matthew

I have been a barrister for over 25 years, specialising in crime. You may also have come across some of my articles I have written on legal issues for The Times, Standpoint, Daily Telegraph or Criminal Law & Justice Weekly

19 thoughts on “We need to think again about the effect of Victim Personal Statements on sentencing”

  1. This is very interesting, thank you for writing this.
    The point I will make is not a legal one. Essentially, there are so many barriers to women seeking redress from their assaulters (I have reported to the police and university authorities 3 such occasions and received none. It’s my belief that there’s next to no point reporting in future) that if in one small area the legal system actually punishes those that take advantage of others more severely than would otherwise have been the case, that I will sleep better at night.
    Because, as you write Grushin may only have expected it to be a cat 3b harm should not have given him this cloak of confidence. You’ll know better than me about the thin skull doctrine.
    Perhaps this can act as a larger deterrent to the people who often have a pattern of such behaviour because they have been able to get away with it for so long. Their MO is rarely a one off. They do these things impervious to the effects their behaviour actually have on others, and should be appropriately punished for robbing someone of their independence and sense of safety in the world. We don’t know if he’s done it before. My experience is that abusers begin early in life.

    I was victim to a very similar assault Grushin has been accused of 8 years ago. I remain to this day on high alert and anxious in lifts, and I will avoid them where possible. I suffered panic attacks for months. I almost had to take a leave of absence from my job, and my performance certainly suffered, affecting my bonus and standing in my company. It is frighteningly easy for even a moderately sized man to overpower most women, and the perception of safety in public spaces and therefore ability to function normally can be severely damaged when you experience incidents like this. I hope that you are never similarly affected.
    The chap who assaulted me was let off with a caution, and left at large to find me and do it again. He terrified me and he ultimately just went about his day. The only real justice was when he resisted arrest and was face planted into the tarmac by the Met Police.

  2. Some people (who are not lawyers) may say “If you don’t want to do the time, don’t do the crime.” In my view the defendant put a rope round his neck when he posed with the ex BoE governor.

  3. Thank you for this.

    After reading the title of this piece, but before reading the full text of it, I remembered and read about Jill (nee) Saward, the rape victim in the Ealing Vicarage aggravated burglary and rape of 1986. It was the sentencing for the rapes in that case that first got me thinking about the issue you have written about, applying your expertise.

  4. Personally, I’m skeptical that there should even be a VPS at all. The victim has already had the opportunity to tell the court how they felt about what happened and, if that is to be taken into account at all, it should already have done so.
    
Those in the justice system who decide such things are supposed to have given thought to the balance between level of sentence vs level of crime and it should be for the justice system to decide the appropriate sentence, not the victim.

    The feelings of victims towards the crime and the criminal are usually harsher than the sentencing guidelines, because there is no such balance. “They should throw away the key” is an oft-used phrase for such people.
    (And, in case you’re wondering, yes I have been the victim of crime and have never been arrested nor under suspicion for any crime myself. Well not yet anyway!).

    Another significant factor which I believe is on the increase is how much the complainant/victim can subsequently claim in compensation, either from the CICA or via a civil case against the accused. It is therefore in the interests of the victim to exaggerate the impact as much as possible.

    With that in mind, it makes no sense therefore for the C of A to state that “a judge is not thereby being called upon to make a medical judgment. The judge is, rather, making a judicial assessment of the factual impact of the offence upon the victim”.

    It is not a “factual impact”; it is the self-diagnosed impact the victim would have you believe, for a potentially ulterior motive, which may be true or may not be. 
That is like saying someone who is claiming to have suffered whip-lash in a car accident should be believed without any medical evidence to back it up.

    There is an apparent race, particularly among popularity-seeking politicians, to put support of victims of crime above all else, undermining both the rights of the (possibly innocent) accused person and the sense of balance in sentencing, of which the rise in importance of the VPS is just one unfortunate indicator.

  5. “Kate Stone’s” passing remark about the thin skull defence (aka take your victim as you find them) is suggestive: we are talking about consequences that go beyond what would ordinarily be assumed to be built into recognition of the level of seriousness of the offence. Here the differential sentencing is not based on any inherent but latent aspect of the complainant but it operates on a parallel principle that a person is responsible for not ordinarily foreseeable consequences of their actions. Violations of personal space (not only in sexual offences) can indeed have severe effects on individuals. To what extent should such “disproportionate” consequences be taken into account is an issue of debateable principle. So that is one element of this concern.
    The other element is evidential and here actually I found “Blackstone’s” comments distinctly unhelpful, although these developments in respect to sentencing obviously have many flaws. However, the issues need to be seen in the context of long recognised endemic vexed problems with the field of expert evidence, from Turner onwards (and noting too the reliance on McLoughlin v O’Brian in R v D) – but transposed to the realm of sentencing. Specifically, on the one hand, that expert psy evidence is admissible/relevant only if it can be connected to a recognised disease/mental illness entity but, on the other hand, on the side of ordinary life experience – and obviously this is a newer development – that concepts (and terminology) of psychological harm or injury, as well as depression and anxiety (as opposed to clinical depression and anxiety disorders or indeed PTSD), can be seen as having non medical everyday meanings that non experts are familiar with and competent to engage with as “purely factual” matters, including not only how to test the credibility and reliability of the complainant’s account but also questions of causation. In other words, there is a coherent explanation of how sentencers have got to this position, regrettable as it may be.
    I agree that there are serious issues about testing the credibility and reliability of the complainant’s account as given in a VPS, not only because it seems heartless and therefore counterproductive to conduct a thorough cross examination but also because – contra the idea that an appeal court can always deal with this – to the extent that the complainant’s demeanour is also relied on, the CA will obviously defer to the trial judge.

  6. VPS are part of an antiquated white male patriarchal system trying to redress issues caused by a white male patriarchal system without understanding the issues (e.g. see Bater-James for CA judges out of touch with modern young sexual and drug practices). By denuding the system of the objectivity (or veneer of objectivity) it pretended to have before they are causing all sorts of problems and miscarriages. By giving a sexual offender a sentence of a few years instead of a CO for the lowest level of sexual offending they also offend other victims of crime that have involved actual touching or penteration of of sexual parts.
    Potential solutions are:
    1. No VPS – victim puts in the effects in their original statement with simple guidelines to officers taking statements on that part.
    2. Judges being taught that clinical psychology is medical and they can make diagnoses and so psychological harm is a medical diagnosis. Judges can have guidelines about harm but the difference between what a psychologist considers clinical harm and a layperson is large – it is difficult to see how any normal person would not consider that sever psychological harm was measurable and comparable by the standards of the clinical disciplines of psychology/psychiatry.
    3. Officers to do update enquiries if they think may be useful (i.e. where person ahs indicated in 1st statement is affectign them badly or told officer more recently). If this indicates a possible unusual level (*which may be clinical) then it may be necessary to speak to the GP about it who can give a bewtter indicaiton, including on whether there may be need for an actual report. As a side issue, this may actually assist the victim in terms of compensation, or indeed a state supported civil claim (which I have always thought is somethng that could be applied to support victims).
    4. More variety on the bench apart from the usual suspects or those inducted into a system that appears to know very little about how oridnary people live, react or see justice. the reacton by the usual suspects toeverything is legalisation of the problem rather than a human reasoned and experienced understnadign of what reality is like. Hence the bending over backwards to prevent defence questioning of victims of sexual assault/rape (especially drunk ones – see Bater-James above) to make up for years of ignoring victims of rape – it is a false remedy drvien by a fundamental lack of understanding of what the problems are in the context of a fair judicial system to both sides in actual society. One of the things that exemplifies this is the officer in Sheffield who confirmed the girls were likely to be describing an actual pattern of sexual offending but was told that the “violation” of people’s homes (burglary) was the priority as set by the government, local authority and the local CC and so his investigation was shut down (https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-31872553).

    The current system, like everything else in the CJS is intended to save money – either the money by an officer investigating properly or the doctor/expert report. One way to do this is to ignore an objective system on the basis that most defendants can’t or won’t complain and so banging them up for increasing lengths of time saves Court time. While endorsing a 7% detection rate.

  7. I find Blackstone’s comment persuasive. Just think: suppose the victim statement were treated as evidence – subject to investigation by the police, subject to cross-examination in court. Short of that I wouldn’t put any weight on a victim statement. As economists like to say “consider the incentives”.

    Of course, there’s also my distaste for the PrincessDianafication of our society.

      1. And, come to think of it, self-indulgent, exaggerated emoting when civilised behaviour calls for a modicum of stoicism.

  8. I do trust all the ideas you’ve presented on your post.
    They are really convincing and can certainly work. Still, the posts are too
    quick for novices. May just you please extend them a bit from next time?
    Thanks for the post.

  9. “We are quite satisfied that [the victim’s] original victim statement faithfully articulated how he felt. ”
    What a mystifying statement given the evidence to the contrary. My belief is a defendant did this in evidence and was found out they would not receive such leeway.

  10. I’ve suffered ‘ “severe” psychological harm’, for over 14 years now…..written several victim impact statements and the abuse just gets worse 🙁

    But I take your point here….I remember thinking similar things when they were first brought in…..some people are more articulate than others, better at using emotive language…some exaggerate, and the opposite of all that is also true in some people……..court of law should be clinical, these clearly are not….

  11. I have no real legal knowledge or background but the concept of the victim personal statement as an input to sentencing seems a very odd one.
    The point of a trial as I understand it is to determine, as far as is possible in an imperfect world, the facts of a case and thereby if a defendant is guilty and if so the nature and severity of the offence. The trial process has been developed that recognises the imperfect nature of peoples honesty, memory and perception and that evidence will necessarily be limited and open to varying interpretations. It provides a process and safeguards that gives the best chance of determining the truth and reducing the chance of those innocent being convicted. Having gone through this process what is the point of a Victim Personal Statement. The evidence of what occured and its impact has already been delivered in an environment and process where it can be examine and challenged.

    It seems to me that the system was designed to allow politicians to argue that they were supporting victims and being tough on crime. The point was to respond to emotional stories of the impact of crime on sympathetic victims contrasted to sentences perceived as lenient. Your example is actually a case of the system working as intended. The issue is not just that it is an easy and consequence free way to influence the outcome but that it is inherently unjust in that it is designed to penalises the same offence committed against someone who is more sympathetic and articulate more than against someone less sympathetic or articulate. THis is to some extent inevitable but it is something to be minimised rather than increased.

    As an outsider to the system this seems a common feature of much modern changes. I don’t understand the concept of ‘hate crime’ as an aggravating factor rather than absence of mitigation. Should it matter what the motive of a crime against someone is if it is an invalid or completely unreasonable one? If I am assaulted without reason by a stranger, because I am a red head, or just because I was in the wrong place at the wrong time is it worse morally or in its impact if the motive is racism or sexism? It seems again the motive is so that politicians can say that they are acting firmly against som eof the fashionable ill sof society rather than that it will actually help or that it makes sense. The problem with such measures is that they are themselves inherently discriminatory priviliging some groups of victims above others.

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