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Call for Govt to improve victim rights, services

4 February 2008


Victim Support calls for Government to improve victims’ rights, services and financial support

Fairer treatment of victims in the justice system, including state-funded financial support and counselling, are priorities for the next Government, says Victim Support.

Victim Support, the national organisation that supports victims of crime and trauma, has released a document entitled Commitment to Parallel Justice urging improvements for victims.

Victim Support acting chief executive Heather Verry said New Zealand had made significant progress towards upholding victims’ rights but there was still more to be done. “There are many gaps in our services, which limit victims’ ability to participate in the criminal justice system, to seek redress and to receive support for the ongoing physical and emotional impacts of crime.”

Mrs Verry said that Victim Support endorses what is known as “parallel justice” - a system that has been promoted in the United States, giving victims a separate path to justice alongside the criminal justice system. “It distinguishes the victim’s needs from society’s treatment of the offender, so that victims’ rights do not depend on apprehension and conviction of the offender.”

The document calls for the Government to make five improvements for victims: greater standing in the criminal justice system, state-funded reparation, expanded state-funded support and compensation, improvements to restorative justice and expanded victim assistance schemes.

Mrs Verry said that the key focus for election year was strengthening the position of victims in the criminal justice system. Victim Support believes that the Victims’ Rights Act 2002 must be urgently applied to ensure victims are accorded the rights they are due. Agencies must also uphold their obligations to victims, such as the provision of information and the referral to services. “Victims should be able to expect, rather than hope, that they will have access to support services, to be treated with courtesy and compassion and to have their dignity and privacy respected,” said Mrs Verry.

Victim Support also recommends that the Children, Young Persons and their Families Act 1989 is amended to give victims of young offenders rights in accordance with victims of adult offenders. “Much has been made of how we deal with youth offenders but we seem to have forgotten the victims of these offenders,” said Mrs Verry.

Another key focus was financial and psychological support for victims. “Victim Support believes that the Government should prioritise the wide-ranging needs of crime victims, rather than solely the physical injury, and that the focus also be on promoting recovery through support services and compensating actual costs, such as lost earnings, as opposed to lump sum payouts,” said Mrs Verry.

“Many victims who miss out on compensation in New Zealand would be eligible for it overseas,” said Mrs Verry. ACC currently only recognised mental harm as an injury if it resulted from physical injury or sexual abuse. “A sportsperson who develops depression as a result of an injury that prevents their participation in their sport is eligible for compensation but a person who is robbed at knifepoint on their way home and develops posttraumatic stress disorder does not.”

While the Government was considering extending the ACC mental trauma policy to workplace incidents, this was not enough to bring our compensation scheme in line with overseas models, said Mrs Verry. Other key failings were that only families of homicide victims were eligible for payouts and counselling in New Zealand, while most countries also supported family and witnesses of other crimes.

Another recommendation was for the Government to pay reparation to victims and then recover the funds from the offender. Mrs Verry said this would prevent victims having to wait for offenders to drip-feed payments and would ensure that victims still receive reparation even if their offender is not caught.

“Our recommendations are based on research, the United Nations guiding principles for victims and our own work with victims at the grassroots level,” said Mrs Verry.

Victim Support has about 1700 volunteers nationwide who provide round the clock support to victims following crime, such as burglary through to homicide, and trauma, such as a suicide or accident.

The Commitment to Parallel Justice document can be found on our website victimsupport.org.nz


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