Who can make a victim personal statement
You can make a VPS if you are the direct victim of the crime. Where a victim is deceased, or they are unable to make a statement due to their physical or mental health, someone else can write it such as a close family member or representative (where the Victim and Witness Care Unit are made aware of this). A bereaved family member can make a statement on behalf of other family members. If you are under 18, your parent or guardian can make a VPS instead of, or as well as you.
About victim personal statements
If a decision is taken to prosecute someone for a crime committed against you, the Victim and Witness Care Unit will write to you, or a bereaved family member or representative (where they are known). They will tell you about the decision to prosecute and let you know that you can make a VPS.
Your VPS must be made before any sentence is passed. If a VPS is not submitted in enough time before the sentencing date, generally it will not be possible to delay the case for this purpose.
In some cases, for example, where there is an early guilty plea, the case is dealt with at the first court appearance or decisions are taken very rapidly, it may not always be possible for a victim personal statement to be submitted ahead of sentencing. In some cases conviction and sentencing may take place on the same day.
You do not have to make a statement if you do not want to - it is entirely your choice. If you decide not to make a VPS, it will not damage the case in any way. No one will assume that you are unaffected by the crime.
A VPS is different from an Expert Witness Impact Report which the court may commission from, for example, a medical expert.
Making a victim personal statement
You must contact Victim Support NI, NSPCC Young Witness Service (if the victim is a young person) or your PSNI Family Liaison Officer (for a family member bereaved through murder, manslaughter or a road death) in order to make the statement. Ideally you should contact them once you know the trial, or contest, date or if the defendant pleaded guilty. They will advise you about what your statement can/cannot contain and help you prepare the VPS.
The VPS should be recorded by, or be made through, Victim Support NI, NSPCC Young Witness Service or the PSNI Family Liaison Officer (with their advice). You should prepare a draft statement ahead of meeting them. You must sign and give the statement to them once finalised.
Your statement should set out the impact on you as the victim or, if the victim is deceased, the impact on the family member completing the statement. It may also reflect on how it affects the victim’s close family. The types of impacts you may include are:
- physical injury;
- emotional impact of the crime, if it has affected your feelings or emotional wellbeing;
- social impact, including how you interact with people;
- financial impact, including any money or property lost as a result of the crime, or inability to work
The focus must be on how you have been affected as a result of the crime (or the person on whose behalf the VPS is being made), not on what actually happened. You should not describe the detail of the crime itself – the court will hear about this separately. You should not give your views on the defendant, any other or alleged offences, or any punishment that you think should be imposed – that is for the judge alone to decide.
Before the VPS is given to the judge, the Public Prosecution Service will remove any information that should not be in the statement (known as redaction). You may be asked to provide medical evidence to support your statement.
Once you have completed the statement, you will need to sign each page and make a declaration that the statement is true to the best of your knowledge and belief. Keep in mind that you could be prosecuted if there is anything in the statement that you know to be false or do not believe to be true.
If you are under 18, your statement must be witnessed by another person who is over 18.
Withdrawing or changing your statement
Once you have made a victim personal statement you cannot withdraw or change it. However, if you feel you have found further longer term effects of the crime you may be able to make another statement that updates the information provided in the first one.
Victim personal statements in court
If the case goes to court and the defendant is found guilty or pleads guilty, the VPS will be seen by the prosecutor, the defendant, their legal representative and the judge, ahead of any sentencing. After the VPS is submitted it forms part of the case papers.
It will tell the judge about how the crime has affected, or continues to affect, you before he or she passes any sentence.
The judge or the defence could decide to ask you questions in court about the content of your statement. You therefore need to substantiate its content.
You are not entitled to read your statement aloud in court. The judge may refer to, or make public, as part of their sentencing comments, part(s) of the VPS. This means it could be read out in court and reported in the media. Your VPS should state if you object to part(s) of it being referred to in court or in the judgement.
The judge alone decides the sentence in each case, taking account of a wide range of issues including the maximum sentence available in law, any aggravating or mitigating factors in a case, any case law and any other guidance that is available such as sentencing guidance. The judge will be required to consider a VPS that is provided ahead of sentencing.
Engaging with other criminal justice service providers
Where you engage with other criminal justice service providers (the Northern Ireland Prison Service, the Probation Board Northern Ireland or the Youth Justice Agency) they may find it helpful to see your VPS. This could help them provide services to you. In such cases you should tell them you want them to see your VPS. They will take your written consent and get your VPS.