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Saturday, July 16, 2005 

Attack on the neutrality of the court system increases.

Families of murder victims to have their say in court:

Relatives of murder victims will be given the right to speak out in open court about the effect of the loss of their loved ones on their lives, under plans to be unveiled by the Department for Constitutional Affairs next week.

They will be allowed to make their speeches, either in person or through their own lawyer, at the hearing which decides the killer's sentence.

The idea, to be outlined in a consultation paper, is part of a programme intended to "rebalance" the criminal justice system more in favour of victims.

At present, ministers believe, there is too much emphasis on defendants' rights and too little on victims' needs.

The plan is not to influence the sentence imposed but to give relatives an opportunity to vent their grief in open court as part of the criminal justice process, rather than outside on the court steps.

Let's keep in mind how this will affect the possibility and length of sentences. There are many doubts over recent murder cases, in particular that of Sion Jenkins, who is now facing a 3rd trial over the murder of his step-daughter, Billie-Jo Jenkins. Would he have even got past the first appeal if his wife and daughters had been allowed to make an emotional speech denouncing him after the first trial which found him guilty in front of the judge? Another case which excited public opinion and which Private Eye have condemned, is that of the conviction of Michael Stone for the murders of Lin and Megan Russell. His latest appeal in January was again denied by three judges. There is no forensic evidence linking him to the murder. He was convicted mainly on the word of another prisoner, Damien Daley, who is known to have perjured himself while giving evidence.

Murder cases are always going to be emotional. Why do we need the victims family to make a speech about how it has effected them? The evidence given in the trial already would allow the judge to gain an insight into their pain. The whole suggestion smacks of further cosying up to the tabloid agenda, who often cry that the courts are in favour of the accused rather than the victim. The whole point of the court system is that it should be neutral in every way, both from the government, the victims and the alleged offender. To position it in any other way is to subvert our whole system of justice.

We need to stop wallowing in self-pity, which seems to have pushed ever forward since the death of Diana in 1997. While we should never hide our emotions, to constantly use them to affect such serious circumstances is something that should be bitterly opposed.

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