When Bev Thomas sat in court waiting to hear what punishment would be handed out to the five men convicted of her daughter's murder, one life sentence had already been handed out.

On New Year's Eve 2003, 18-year-old Charlene Ellis was shot dead along with friend Letisha Shakespeare, turning Mrs Thomas's life into an eternity of anguish.

But until now, the families of murder or manslaughter victims had no place to stand up and tell the justice system about their grief and make their feelings heard.

A pilot scheme, introduced in Birmingham yesterday, will now allow such families to have their chance to say in court just how the death of their loved one has affected them before a sentence is handed down.

Mrs Thomas welcomed the move, and wished she had been given the chance to tell the perpetrators, and their families, how their lives had been impacted by the murder of 18-year-old Charlene.

The "victims' advocate" scheme will be tested for one year in crown courts at Birmingham, Cardiff, Manchester, Winchester, and the Old Bailey.

The advocate can be a family member or a third party, such as a lawyer.

"I do welcome it because I think it is very important for the perpetrator to know how it does affect the family, and how the court proceedings affect the family," said Mrs Thomas.

"All those things that happen are important for them to know."

Lord Chancellor, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, said the scheme had been launched because victims and their families currently had "no place" in the criminal justice system. He said it was curr ently a system which appeared to be "dominated by judges and lawyers".

Mrs Thomas said it was important for the family of the victim to help the criminal understand the enormity of their actions.

She said that during the trial it felt like Marcus Ellis, (24), Michael Gregory, (23), Rodrigo Simms, (20) and Nathan Martin, (26), had more say in court. "I don't think that those boys knew how the family felt," said Mrs Thomas.

"Not just the perpetrators but their families, because you don't get a chance to say, and that whole procedure was very stressful. They should know and the judge should know when he is sentencing them. We never got the chance to stand up and say it in court."

Funding from the Department for Constitutional Affairs will be available for families who wish to hire a barrister as an advocate but can not afford one themselves.

Chief Crown Prosecutor for the West Midlands David Blundell said: "It must be in the interests of justice to allow the family to address the judge. It can contribute to the feeling that justice has been done."