Call for independent victims commission

The Government’s chief victims advisor is calling for a complete overhaul of the country’s “archaic” criminal justice system, including the appointment of an independent commission.

Kim McGregor called for the reformation of the criminal justice system, and how it treats victims, at a two-day victims hui held in Wellington.

“Victims of crime suffer not only harm, loss and trauma from the crimes against them. Many also suffer from a lack of justice and or revictimisation from within our inherited, Westminster, offender-centric, adversarial, criminal justice system,” she said on Monday.

“While not all victims are the same... from many victims’ perspectives, it seems there is very little about our current criminal justice system that is just, or is fair.”

Despite a decades-long victims movement, and a push to be heard and respected, victims felt sidelined, not listened to, and not believed.

McGregor told about 160 people, including judges, police, corrections and parole staff, along with victim advocates and victims, that this was a “once-in-a-generation opportunity” to overhaul the justice system.

When asked whether there were the tools and support available to her office to advocate for change on this scale, McGregor said victims who pushed for the establishment of her role really wanted to see an independent victims commissioner.

“While not all victims are the same ...  from many victims’ perspectives, it seems there is very little about our current criminal justice system that is just, or is fair.”

The role of chief victims advisor was set up under the former National government, with funding for one person to work a day and a half each week.

That was extended by the current Government to a part-time role, at two and a half days. Justice Minister Andrew Little would review the pilot role by the end of the year.

McGregor said she personally saw the job becoming similar to that of the health and disability commissioner.

Little and Under-Secretary for Justice Jan Logie would also release a national strategy for family and sexual violence by the end of the year.

Little said there had been a lot of well-intentioned policy and law changes in recent years, but like the advisor role, they had not been well-supported. He planned to change that.

Offender-centric system

McGregor, along with Little, and Logie, said the system remained too offender-centric.

Offenders had case managers and their own lawyers, but victims did not have one assigned person to help them navigate the siloed system, she said, adding that no one was tracking the number of victims in the system and their cases, and there was no one monitoring victims’ rights.

McGregor said she would like to see a single navigator assigned to each victim as they entered the system.

Little said it was time the system did better for victims and survivors of crime.

“It is time to accept that supporting victims of crime and making a place for victims and survivors of crime in our justice system does not have to come at the expense of the various rules and safeguards we have built up for offenders,” he said.

“One thing that sets victims apart from every other participant in the criminal justice system is that they have not chosen to be there. Nothing they have done has caused them to be part of the system. So, rather than victims being incidental to the system, it’s time their place in it was clearly marked out.”

Dire victim survey results

The comments come in the wake of a new victim survey, which painted a dire picture of victims’ treatment in the criminal justice system.

A four-week survey completed last month found 57 percent of people said they had either a poor, or very poor, experience with the system.

Of the 600 respondents (including 550 who had personally experienced a crime), 78 percent said they didn’t have enough information and support; 76 percent said their views and concerns weren’t listened to; and 82 percent said the system wasn’t safe for victims.

Just 11 percent said they had a good, or very good, experience.

Under-Secretary of Justice Jan Logie said many victims felt worse off after going through the justice process. Photo: Lynn Grieveson

McGregor said she wasn’t surprised by the results, saying some victims feel worse after going through the court process.

The chief victims advisor said she had been told by top police people and ministers, if they – or a loved one – were raped, they would not report it to the police after what they’d seen of victim treatment within the system.

Currently only 20 percent of family violence incidents are reported, and 1 in 100 sexual violence cases result in a conviction, due in part to the way the systems treated victims and survivors.

Suite of measures

The Government’s promise to do better for victims was made during a two-day spinoff workshop, following the Safe and Effective Justice Summit held in August.

At the August workshop, victims and victim advocates said they did not feel they were properly heard. As a result, Little called for a victim-specific workshop, which would be followed by a hui Māori.

The minister would receive recommendations in June, which he would then turn into a package of measures to take to Cabinet.

Little acknowledged victims' frustration at having to repeat the same issues and give the same suggestions over many years. But he assured them, this Government planned to make significant changes.

When asked why this time would be different, Little said he was listening to what all groups had to say.

“This is long-term stuff. We’ve been going for decades and decades without a lot of big changes to the environment and the systems that we’ve got.

“If we want to make long-term change, it’s going to take some time to put that together. But I’m confident that we’ll get there.”

Victims in New Zealand

There were 260,882 victimisations reported to police in the 2018 financial year. Theft and burglary were the most commonly-reported crimes.

Māori were most likely to experience crime - 37 percent of Māori in New Zealand experienced crime, according to the 2018 New Zealand Crime and Victims Survey of 8000 New Zealanders. This was followed by Pākehā at 30 percent.

Men and women were equally likely to be victims of crime - 29 percent of all men and women have experienced crime. However, women were more likely than men to have experienced partner violence and sexual violence.

People aged 65 and over were less likely to be victims (18 percent) than those aged 20 to 29 (40 percent).

While the new victims survey painted a poor picture of victims’ experience in the mainstream criminal justice system, the restorative justice satisfaction survey for 2018 found 86 percent of victims were at least fairly satisfied with the restorative justice process.

The vast majority of those who participated in restorative justice conferences said they were happy with how the meetings were run, and they felt safe.

Little said there was space for wider use of restorative justice in the system, but it had to be when victims were ready.

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