The restorative capacities of victim impact statements: analysis of the victim–judge communication dyad in the sentencing of homicide offenders

Hart Publishing
Publication Type:
Journal Article
Restorative Justice, 2014, 2 (3), pp. 253 - 277 (24)
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Victim impact statements (VISs) are said to introduce restorative elements into the sentencing hearing for the benefit of victims. Roberts and Erez (2004) argue that a key restorative feature of VISs is their potential to generate reciprocal communication between judge and victim: victims have the opportunity to speak about the impact of the crime and the court has the opportunity to acknowledge the harm suffered and validate victims' experiences. Drawing from the findings of a small qualitative study of VISs in homicide sentencing hearings in New South Wales (NSW), Australia, this paper examines the communicative potential of VISs. While the institutional context of VISs in common law jurisdictions constrains their communicative capacities, nonetheless oral VISs provide victims with a valuable opportunity to speak and be heard. Furthermore, while in the hearings studied there was little direct communication between judge and victim, this study reveals that VISs provide a context in which other, more indirect communications can occur
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