Victim impact statements: Some concerns about current practice and proposed changes
Jun 28, 2011
Currently victims have the right to submit a VIS in a variety of ways, though it is usually in writing, and to request the opportunity to present the statement in open court. The judge has the discretion to deny this request and to edit the statement if there are concerns about its length or content. Under the new proposal, victims will have the right to use their own words in the VIS and “to address the offender so that the offender may better perceive the impact of the offence on the victim”. For serious offences (s.29 of the Victims Rights Act), victims will have an automatic right to present their VIS in court, though the judge retains the right to manage the process.
....One troubling feature is the way a VIS can serve to demonise an offender in the public mind, especially in particularly graphic cases that attract high-level media attention. While the statements may evoke compassion for victims, which is positive, they may also stir up hatred, fear, anger and disgust towards the defendant, which is surely negative. Generating disgust towards specific persons or groups in society is extremely perilous.
....A second matter of concern is whether the VIS actually encourages genuine or lasting empathy for victims. As a brief snapshot in time, the VIS can never do justice to the complexity and variability of a victim’s experience. Nor does it allow the subject’s unique identity and particularity to emerge.
....A third concern about the VIS is its non-dialogical nature. According to Simon Power, a chief goal of the VIS is to enable victims “to address the offender so that the offender may better perceive the impact of the offence on the victim”. But if the statement is addressed to the offender, surely the addressee should have the opportunity to respond in some appropriate way to the victim’s comments. Otherwise, the statement is spoken at the offender or about the offender, but not to the offender.