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 Often they are out of date or so sparse as to be inconsequential.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. Continue reading “We need to think again about the effect of Victim Personal Statements on sentencing”