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Friday, 13 November 2009


Press release by Garth McVicar of the Sensible Sentencing Trust regarding victim impact statements being censorded by judges.



The families of murder victims are defying court orders to silence them by publicly releasing full versions of previously censored victim impact statements to the media.

View statement (.doc, 30KB)

The civil disobedience campaign includes the families of high profile murder victims and is being led by the Sensible Sentencing Trust as part of a wider move to see the laws regarding what can be said in a victim impact statement (VIS) changed.

“The reading of a victim impact statement is often the only time a victim or their family get to be heard in the justice system and the current practice of gagging what people can say is frustrating and unfair,” said Sensible Sentencing Trust spokesman, Garth McVicar.

Currently a VIS can outline physical injuries sustained by a victim, loss or damage incurred from the crime and emotional and psychological effects as a result of the crime. Opinions, comments on sentencing, the conduct of the offender during the trail and rebuttal of information presented about the victim during the trial is not allowed.

Gil Elliott, the father of murdered Dunedin woman Sophie Elliott, is leading the move to release full versions of censored statements after his family had large amounts deleted by police the night before sentencing.

“Lesley and I and other members of the family had spent a lot of time on these statements. It was finally our chance to be heard. I must have done dozens of drafts on mine before I was satisfied it was ok,” Mr Elliott said.

With no time to redraft the statements, they were forced to read around the crossed-out segments, which Mr Elliott said were not defamatory but defended slurs made against his daughter by the defence and expressed the family’s view of her killer, Clayton Weatherson.

“It is bad enough that victim’s families have virtually no input into proceedings, without then finding out that we can’t even read our carefully worded statements in total. In Lesley’s case about one quarter was censored. It’s just another kick in the guts for victims.”

Weatherston was allowed to read the statements privately and in full prior to sentencing, which also upset the family, who had wanted their daughter’s killer to sit in the public court and hear from them first about the impact his actions had had on them.

Brian Brown, whose daughter Natasha was murdered by Michael Curran at McLaren Falls, near Tauranga, in 2005, is one of those taking part in the campaign and said despite being told by the judge to stop when he began reading censored parts of his victim impact statement in court, he continued to read it all and is glad he did so.

Mr Mcvicar said families of victims believed the right to be heard was more important than respecting what they believed was an unfair court ruling. Several members who had yet to present their statements in court had committed to reading the full, uncensored version and were encouraging others to do the same.

“If the court system is going to continue failing victims and their families, they have no choice but to come out fighting for change themselves. They have been through enough already and shouldn’t have to be re-victimised by the system that should be there to deliver justice for them,” said Mr McVicar.

He said the families were more concerned with fairness than with any consequences they faced by disclosing the censored statements, and would fight hard for a law change regarding what could be said in a statement.

Specifically, the Trust and its members wanted statements to be able to include:

The victim’s opinion on sentencing, and any argument that it be increased to reflect any lack of remorse or misrepresentation of the victim during the trail.
To ask the court to order specific reparation or compensation.
To draw attention to any disgraceful conduct and attitude during the trail by the offender or their family/supporters.
Section 25 of the Victims Rights Act allows a court to make orders restricting disclosure of a statement. But Sensible Sentencing Trust legal adviser Stephen Franks said even if an order had been made, there was a strong argument that the court still did not have the power to restrict what a victim said, providing it was true and not defamatory.

Full victim impact statements from Gil Elliott and Brian Brown have been linked to/attached to this email, with censored parts highlighted. Contact details and experiences of other families are also available on request.


Garth McVicar (027) 2487-919
Spokesman, Sensible Sentencing Trust


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