I apologise to the House.
Victim impact statements are among the most effective mechanisms available to ensure the interests and concerns of the victims of crime are brought to bear on the criminal justice process. As section 5 of the Criminal Justice Act 1993 puts it, the court, before passing sentence, is required to take into account any effect, whether long term or otherwise, of the offence on the person in respect of whom the offence was committed. This is one of the rare instances where the court is specifically directed as to a matter to be taken into account at the sentencing stage; courts otherwise, other than in murder cases, have a very large measure of discretion as to the matters to be considered in the context of determining the appropriate sentence. As a result of the procedure under section 5 of the 1993 Act, victims can expect to have a level of involvement beyond that of a mere witness.
I am aware of the recent debate about victim impact statements which I have followed with close interest. As we are all aware, the debate arises from a particularly difficult and tragic case. In those circumstances, I felt it was better for me as Minister not to become involved in the discussion. That is not to say that either I or my Department are not reflecting on the issues and may, if considered necessary and appropriate, bring forward proposals which will address any defect in the current arrangements or which may enhance further the role of the victim.
The reflection I have referred to takes account not only of the recent debate but also includes consideration of the very helpful comments made by the balance in the criminal law review group, chaired by Dr. Gerard Hogan SC, in its report earlier this year. With regard to the current arrangements under section 5 of the 1993 Act, the review group suggests the section may be too restrictive in so far as it permits a statement by or on behalf of the direct victim only.
Additional information not given on the floor of the House.
It suggests there is a case for expanding the definition of victim to include other persons intimately affected by the crime. This is frequently the case in homicide cases where the victim is, of course, unavailable but a close relative is, at the court's discretion, permitted to make or provide a statement.
The review group also goes on to discuss the possible use of victim impact statements at the parole or remission stage and places this issue in the context of restorative justice, that is, the victim would have an opportunity to address the perpetrator directly, to make him or her realise more fully the harm that has been done.
In a further recommendation, the review group addressed the possibility of inappropriate use of statements and raised the possibility of restrictions on publication in certain circumstances, at the direction of the court.
I will continue to reflect on and consider how the current system can be improved. In my considerations, I will endeavour to ensure that the victim is allowed as much opportunity as is reasonably possible to have his or her experiences taken into account. However, I must also ensure that, in the interests of all parties, we preserve the integrity of the criminal process and that due process continues to be observed.
Deputies will appreciate the issues involved are complex and require careful consideration. It will, therefore, be necessary to take some time to ensure any proposals are appropriate and well grounded.