Victim impact statements ‘used to influence judges’

A retired High Court judge has claimed victims of crime sometimes use victim impact statements to try to influence a judge ahead of sentencing.

Justice Barry White, who sat for the final time at the Central Criminal Court last week, made the comments as he gave his opinion on victim impact statements in general. He said the statements have a value for the victim or their family.

“Quite clearly, they are essential from that point of view,” he said. “They also assist in determining the effect the crime has had on the individual.”

The retired judge also said the victim impact statement carried weight on the imposition of the sentence as one of many factors that had to be taken into account.

However, in the interview with Sean O’Rourke on RTÉ radio, he added: “There have been cases where it would appear the victim is seeking to have undue influence upon a judge or upon the particular circumstances.

“I did take exception to that. You will find, in a rape case for instance, where a jury might have returned a sexual assault rather than rape, where the victim is insisting it was rape.

“You have to respect the verdict of the jury and if the jury say it was not rape and was sexual assault, that is the manner in which it must be approached.”

Justice White was asked about the controversy caused by a comment he made earlier this year in relation to the rape of a Brazilian woman.

During the trial he said, on reading the victim impact report, he did not believe the rape had “a profound psychological effect” on the victim. The Dublin Rape Crisis Centre took issue with that at the time, saying it hoped judges and legal professionals would take part in education programmes to help them better understand the consequences of sexual crimes.

Yesterday, the retired judge reiterated that in that case he took a view that in the victim impact statement, the victim seemed to have a considerable interest in compensation for the offence.

“She was a non-national, and afterwards the rape crisis centre commented that was the approach in her particular country,” he said.

“Certainly, that was not something I was aware of. But neither apparently were the prosecuting authorities. Whether or not it is correct, I do not know. I don’t believe the judges need training in relation to sentencing in cases of a sexual nature.”

During the interview he also said judges had to look at the “particular circumstances of the act of rape.”

“There can be some very violent ones, there can be less violent ones. That is a factor that has to be taken into account. You also have to take into account the position of the individual, who has committed that offence,” he said.

Ellen O’Malley-Dunlop, chief executive of the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre, said the judge’s comments showed “ongoing education and training was needed for the judiciary dealing with cases of rape and sexual violence.”

“Rape is an inherently violent act,” she said. “There is no such thing as a ‘less violent rape.”

Justice White also said during the radio interview that he believed that, as a deterrent, there should be a minimum sentence of 10 years for a knife crime in which the victim died.

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