The effect of victim impact statements on sentencing decisions

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Garkawe, SB 2006, 'The effect of victim impact statements on sentencing decisions', paper presented to Sentencing: Principles, Perspectives and Possibilities Conference, Canberra, ACT, 10-12 February.


Part I: Introduction Since the 1970s Victim Impact Statements (‘VIS’) have been used increasingly in many common law jurisdictions. A VIS is generally a written report submitted to the sentencing authority following a guilty verdict or plea, and prior to the sentencing decision. They may vary in content and form, but are meant to include details of the physical, financial, social and psychological effects on the victim of the crime that is the subject of the sentencing hearing. Victims may prepare the VIS themselves, or they may rely on the help of relatives, friends or victim support staff. Police, prosecutors or probation officers may also have a role in helping the victim prepare their statement, with the degree of help varying between jurisdictions and individual criminal justice professionals. In some situations where the victim is no longer alive or otherwise cannot prepare the report themselves, they may be prepared by a close family member or some other person who generally has the permission of the court to submit the VIS on behalf of the victim. In some jurisdictions they may also form part of the regular presentencing report, while other jurisdictions allow the victim to read out their VIS, and/or even allow victims to provide sworn testimony during the sentencing hearing as to the effect of the crime upon them.