'Vengeful Victims Must Not Influence Justice'; Judges Denounce Kenneth Clarke's Plans to Give Those Hit by Crime a Stronger Voice in Sentencing

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Byline: Steve Doughty Social Affairs Correspondent

VICTIMS of crime should have no say over what happens to criminals because some just want revenge, senior judges declared yesterday.

Two leading Appeal Court justices condemned plans to allow victims more say in court because many, they said, confuse justice with vengeance.

The feelings of victims have nothing to do with the public interest and they should be cut out of punishment decisions, said the judges.

The ringing rejection of victims' growing role in the justice system was delivered by Lord Justice Thomas, deputy head of criminal justice, and Lord Justice Goldring, the senior presiding judge in England and Wales.

It was a powerful rebuke to Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke, who plans to make statements by victims 'routine' in criminal trials and to tell judges to take them into consideration when setting the sentence.

The devastating criticisms of Mr Clarke's controversial scheme to reform sentencing laws were among a series delivered by the two appeal judges and by the Council of Circuit Judges, which represents 652 judges who deal with most serious crime.

Among other attacks on Mr Clarke's plans, the judges warned that cutting sentences by half for criminals who pleaded guilty could see rapists free and on the streets just weeks after being sentenced.

Mr Clarke's Green Paper on justice, published in December amid claims the Coalition had gone soft on crime, said victims' statements should be used so that a court could 'understand fully the harm an offender has caused'.

But in their response on behalf of the senior judiciary, the appeal judges said it 'overlooks the fundamental principle that every criminal offence engages the public interest, a concept which remains at the forefront of sentencing policy'.

they said: 'the sentencing decision cannot depend on the view taken by the victim about how it should be dealt with. some victims are inclined to be merciful, and others are concerned with what they regard as "justice", which may take the form of vengeance.' they added: 'the expectations of the victim must be managed. the court cannot increase a sentence because one victim reacts differently to another.' statements by victims were first allowed in courts a decade ago and were extended to murder cases in 2006. …