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Moral panic in the dock

I can think of nothing worse than reshaping the criminal justice system to prioritise victim

David Wilson

Over the past 24 hours victims' champion Sara Payne has been pleading for government to "redefine" and "reshape" the criminal justice system to give greater priority to the victims of crime – even though she acknowledges that her own experience of the justice system has always been positive.

Not only has it been hard to escape Payne – whose daughter Sarah was murdered in 2000 by the known paedophile Roy Whiting, and who has since that awful crime campaigned for a "Sarah's Law" to give parents information about convicted child sex offenders – but it also remains difficult to be seen to criticise her position. To do so appears insensitive and cruel, although frankly if we want to take her seriously we must leave sentiment behind and expose her thinking to a much more critical analysis than it has so far received.

Should the criminal justice system be reshaped towards victims? I can think of nothing worse. Surely we want to prioritise what is reasonable, proper and proportionate in relation to those cases which come before the courts, as opposed to the inevitable emotion that some victims of crime – for all the right reasons – inspire. Leave reason and proportionality behind and we are on the slippery slope towards state-sanctioned vigilantism in our courts, with the law being administered according to media sensation and moral panic.

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