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Parole Hearings: Victim Statements

Volume 603: debated on Tuesday 8 December 2015

The Conservative election manifesto included a commitment to introduce a new victims law enshrining the rights of victims, including the right to a personal statement before the Parole Board decides on a prisoner’s release. We will publish details in due course. I recognise and passionately believe in the importance of giving victims a voice.

Anne Forbes, whose son Iain was brutally murdered by five men in Corby in 1993, has this year alone had to go through the ordeal of reading out three of these victim statements. This has taken its toll not only on her family but on her health. Will the Minister meet me and Mrs Forbes to discuss the role of victim statements and how they can work better for victims and their families?

The whole idea of a victim statement is for the victim to feel that they are part of the process, and not for it to be a burden on them. Naturally I will meet my hon. Friend and Mrs Forbes to see how her experiences, and other victims’ experiences, can improve the situation for them. I look forward to the meeting.

The average time taken from charging to Crown court trial is close to a year. That is lamentable for victims. What is the Minister going to do to bring this time down substantially?

I fully agree that the length of time between charging and the case coming to court needs to be improved for victims, and that their whole experience needs to be improved within the criminal justice system. The Justice Secretary has already announced measures to speed up the process, and more will be coming forward shortly.

Victims always remain victims, whereas criminals eventually serve their sentence in full, so will the Minister ensure that especially in cases of violent crimes, parole is very rarely given?

That is obviously a matter for the Parole Board, but my hon. Friend is absolutely right. Victims are victims for life; it is something they have to live with for the rest of their life. That is why the support that the Government intend to continue to give to victims is very important.

My constituent Marie McCourt’s daughter Helen was murdered in 1988 and her body has never been found. Her killer received a life sentence, but despite still refusing to reveal the whereabouts of her remains, he is being considered for parole. Will the Minister look at the guidelines to ensure that this man and others like him are never released until they have given information about the location of their victims’ remains?

Naturally I cannot give a commitment on any individual case, but I would like to meet the hon. Gentleman’s constituent if possible to make sure that we can help her and her close family as much as possible. It is imperative that where victims feel that they want to, and that they have the courage to do so, their statements are taken into account by the Parole Board.

The victims can sometimes be the wider community. When are the wider community going to get a say on parole hearings— for instance, on violent crimes that might afflict a whole community? When are the community going to get a say alongside pre-sentence reports on some of these individuals, so that they are represented and their voice is heard regarding the criminal actions of those individuals and the impact they have on a wider number of people?

The hon. Gentleman raises a very important point. We have to be really careful, though, that we do not take away from the individual victims the feeling that they are part of the process, which is something that all Governments have tried to address for many years. We are committed to doing that. We also have to be really careful that we do not create a vigilante situation, but I understand the hon. Gentleman’s point. We have to make sure that the criminal justice system works for everybody.