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New Victim Rights Act welcomed

New Victim Rights Act welcomed

It¡¦s about time that a victim¡¦s right to information, advocacy and support became mandatory under law, says Gray Crawford, Manager of Christchurch Victim Support.

For the year ending 30 July 2002, Christchurch Victim Support¡¦s crisis intervention volunteers assisted 11,910 victims. This total includes 3248 victims of burglary, 272 victims of robbery, 1194 victims of assault, 72 people affected by homicide, 1182 victims of family violence, 87 victims of sexual offences and 592 victims of threats or intimidation.

¡§I get very angry when, after an offender is caught for a horrendous crime, the system generally only focuses on that offender; making excuses why they committed the crime, ensuring their rights are upheld during the court process and then seeking reasons for an early release from prison. That there ever was a victim in the first place tends to become secondary, with the grieving family and friends quickly forgotten¡¨

¡§The new Victim Rights Act 2002, which has been eagerly awaited by Christchurch Victim Support, becomes law on Wednesday, 18 December and will however hopefully change all that.¡¨

¡§For far too long the system has been biased towards the offenders and their families ensuring that their rights and privileges are always considered when innocent victims of crime suffer life time emotional consequences as a result of somebody else¡¦s callous actions.¡¨

The new Victim Rights Act is a great first step to readdresses this imbalance by introducing clear enforceable obligations on services to provide information and offer appropriate assistance and support to victims.

No longer should victims fall through the cracks through a lack of coordination and communication, Mr Crawford advises, as agencies must now work more co-operatively together to ensure victims are kept fully informed of their rights.

In anticipation to the introduction of the Victim Rights Act, Christchurch Victim Support founded Christchurch Victim Services, a collective of 36 non profit victim service agencies dedicated to work together for the benefit of the victim. Christchurch Victim Services can be contacted on website www.victimservices.co.nz

The Victim Rights Act improves on the previously discretionary rights for victims under the Victim of Offences Act 1987.

More people can now benefit from this legislation as the definition of a victim has been expanded to include parents and guardians of child victims and close family members of those murdered, or those who become permanently incapacitated as a result of an offence by others.

Victims are now given more opportunity to meet with offenders in restorative justice or family group conferences. All victims must also now be offered the chance to complete a victim impact statement on the emotional, physical and financial effects of the crime, which can then be considered by the judge when sentencing the offender. If the victim can not do this personally for any reason then they can nominate a support person or representative to advocate on their behalf.

Victims of serious offences must now be involved in the progress of the Police investigation of the case, the charges laid, or the reasons for not laying charges and whether the police are going to deal with the accused/offender by way of diversion or other means.

Also the victim must be advised of any subsequent court proceedings such as theƒndate and place of court appearances, hearings, and any appeals, bail conditions imposed on the accused/offender and theƒnoutcome of proceedings including the sentence imposed. The victims are also now invited to participate fully in any future parole hearing.

If a victim considers that he or she is entitled to a right, and has not received that right, then the victim can lodge a complaint with the Office of the Ombudsmen, the Police Complaints Authority (where the complaint involves a member of the Police), or the Privacy Commissioner (where the matter is one of privacy). Tim Barnett, Labour MP for Christchurch Central and Chairperson of the Justice and Electoral Select Committee, Marc Alexander, List MP for United Future NZ and Deputy Chairperson of the Law and Order Select Committee and, with Mr Phil Goff, Minister of Justice, a member of the watchdog committee that will monitor the operation of this new Act - will be available at a press conference at Marc Alexander¡¦s conference room, 173 Cashel Street, level 2, Highlight House on Wednesday, 18 December at 10.45am to support Mr Crawford of Christchurch Victim Support and answer questions on the Victim Rights Act 2002.

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