Victim Impact Statement
Victim impact statements have been permissable in Ireland since 1993. Other countries such as the US have allowed them since the 1970's. Countries with variations of the statement include Britain, Australia and Finalnd.
They are a controversial aspect of the law, with critics holding that they emotionalise the legal process. Proponents argue that from the victim's point of view it is valuable in aiding their emotional recovery from their ordeal.
It has also been suggested they may confront an offender with the results of their crime and thus aid rehabilitation. Another purpose of the statement is to inform a court of the harm suffered by the victim if the court is required to, or has the option of, having regard to the harm suffered by the victim in deciding the sentence.
The Court of Criminal Appeal made a statement on the law in relation to victim impact statements, and issued guidelines in relation to their use in criminal cases. It found that, in relation to the Wayne O'Donoghue case, while the legislature has provided that a victim impact statement may be given by a living victim of a variety of crimes, no such leglislative provision exists for the family or friends of a victim of an unlawful homocide.
A practice has developed by which a sentencing judge has a discretion to permit a victim statement to be made in such circumstances. The Court holds that such a statement should only be permitted on strict conditions: it should be submitted both to the sentencing judge and to the legal representatives of the accused in advance of the reading or making of the statement itself.
The person who proposes making the statement should be warned by the sentencing judge that if in the course of the statement in court they should depart in any material way from the content of the statement as submitted, they may be liable to be found to have been in contempt of court.
If such a departure occurs and involves unfounded or scurrilous allegations against the accused, the fact may be considered by the sentencing judge to be a matter to be taken into account in mitigation of the sentence to be imposed. Every effort must also be made to ensure that the statement is not used to undermine the proper role of the prosecutation in the trial, or to seek to place in the public domain unfounded allegations against a convicted person who is awaiting sentence.