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Relatives of UK murder victims get voice in court

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LONDON, Feb 24 (Reuters) Families of murder and manslaughter victims are to have the right to express in court how their lives have been affected by the crime.

From April, a so-called impact statement from the family can be read out in court, in front of the killer and before sentence is passed.

''My experience, both from talking to victims and from dealing with people in the court process, is that people have much more confidence in the process if they are allowed to speak in it,'' said Lord Falconer, Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs yesterday.

Many victims' families say their feelings and thoughts seem to have no place in the legal process, he told BBC radio.

A pilot scheme will initially run for one year at five crown courts, including the Old Bailey in London which handles a third of all murder and manslaughter trials in England and Wales.

''If the pilot works it will be rolled-out across the country and become an accepted part of the way the system works in relation to murder and manslaughter cases,'' Falconer said.

He said at present the only way families get their views across is usually on the steps of the court building after the case is over. It was important to bring those views inside the courtroom.

Rose Dixon, from Support After Murder and Manslaughter, backed the proposals.

She said in a statement: ''SAMM supports the changes ... in relation to victims' advocates and acknowledges that this will go some way to redress the balance of rights of the bereaved families in homicide cases and will give families a sense of having some input to the process.'' The other courts where the scheme will be piloted are Birmingham, Cardiff, Manchester and Winchester.

REUTERS SHR SSC1045

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