UK
05/08/2014 10:03 BST | Updated 05/08/2014 10:59 BST

Judge Apologises To Murder Victim's Family For Saying Their Feelings Made 'No Difference'

A judge has apologised to the family of a murdered man after they overheard him comment that victim impact statements made "no difference" when considering parole for his killers.

Judge Graham White's conversation was overheard by Geraldine and Peter McGinty whose son Colin was stabbed to death 13 years ago in Merseyside aged 21.

His parents told the BBC they were heartbroken to hear the comments made over the video link, after submitting a statement which explained that they were "serving a life sentence of heartache and grief and pain" as the killers applied to be transferred to open prisons.

ministry of justice

The parents of a murder victim overhead the judge say their comments made 'no difference' regarding their son's killer's release

Mrs McGinty said: "The judge turned round and said to someone else in the room: 'I feel so very sorry for these families.

'"They make these statements thinking they are going to make a difference, but they make no difference at all. Someone should tell them. The heartache that we go through to do these statements, to be told they don't make any difference.'"

Judge White told the BBC he was sorry for the effect his comments, which he said were made in a "private conversation", had had on Mr McGinty's family, but added that while the statements had an impact, they cannot affect the Parole Board's judgement of the prisoner's risk.

Parole Board chairman Sir David Calvert-Smith said there would be an investigation into the comments.

In guidance issued by the Ministry of Justice last year a victim impact statement, known as a Victim Personal Statement, was defined as giving victims "the opportunity to explain how the crime affected them and their family, and what the impact of release will be".

Shadow justice secretary Sadiq Khan said the judge was "wrong" when he suggested that victim impact statements make "no difference".

sadiq khan

Sadiq Khan said the comments were 'wrong'

He told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme that without hearing from the victim the parole board could not find out from the offender whether he or she understood the damage done to a family.

He also said the statements could influence licence conditions if somebody is to be sent to an open prison or allowed day release.

The Labour frontbencher, whose party has called for a victims' law, went on: "I think victims should have a role to play.

"Too often... rules are written in codes of practices, or in charters or in manuals.

"They are simply paid lip service to rather than professionals... understanding the cultural change that needs to take place."

He added that victims need to feel at the "heart of the justice system".