Victim Personal Statements: A Review of Recent Research and Developments

By Freya Rock

Read the full report here: Victim Personal Statements: A Review of Recent Research and Developments

Executive Summary:

  • A Victim Personal Statement (VPS) is submitted by the victim of a crime to the sentencing court to document the physical, emotional, financial, or other impact of the crime. Victim impact statements have become a key element of the sentencing process, although concerns remain about a number of implementation challenges.
  • The VPS scheme was introduced in England and Wales in 2001 following a commitment in the Victims’ Charter of 1996. The right to submit a VPS is contained in the Victims’ Code. In contrast to other jurisdictions, the right is not currently based in statute. This is set to change with the coming into force of the Victims and Prisoners Bill that is currently passing through Parliament.
  • Research, including the Victims’ Commissioner’s (2015) study of the VPS scheme in England and Wales, suggests that victim impact statements may improve the proportionality of sentencing outcomes because judges find them helpful in determining the nature and extent of the harm caused. A more accurate calibration of the seriousness of the crime should lead to a more proportionate sentence.
  • Recent empirical data on the use of VPS are very limited. This restricts the conclusions which may reasonably be drawn about the benefits and burdens/disadvantages of victim impact statements. No data on the volume of victim statements are currently collected by either the Government or the Ministry of Justice, and questions about the VPS have not featured consistently on the Office for National Statistics’ National Crime Survey.
  • Roberts and Pina-Sanchez’s analyses of Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW) data found that across the most recent administrations of the CSEW only 13% recalled receiving an offer. Of the victims who recalled being offered the opportunity to submit a statement, about half (53%) stated they had submitted one. Those who reported having submitted a VPS were asked whether in their opinion the VPS ‘was taken into account by the CJS’. Approximately one-third responded ‘yes, completely’, 30% chose ‘yes, to some extent’ and 34% responded ‘no’.
  • VPS research should document the reasons behind the low notification and uptake rates. Police officers’ understanding of, and attitudes towards, the VPS should be explored further to ascertain what needs to be done to ensure that the opportunity to submit a VPS is offered to all victims.
  • Research should explore how Victim Personal Statements are used by sentencers in England and Wales, particularly magistrates. Little is currently known beyond the Victims’ Commissioner’s (2015) finding that sentencers in England and Wales find the statements useful because they help to determine the nature and extent of the harm.
  • Another priority for future VPS research should be to undertake in-depth qualitative exploration of the reasons why victims in England and Wales choose to submit a VPS and their experiences of doing so. This would involve interviews with victims who have submitted a VPS, ideally before and after the sentencing hearing, to understand their hopes and expectations.
  • Researchers should also explore the impact the VPS has on the offender. Research has suggested that offenders may appreciate the full consequences of their criminal acts when the victim describes the impact of the crime. Hearing from the person most directly affected may be more meaningful than listening to a prosecutor’s description of the crime.