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Legal Aid Law Just The Beginning: Victim Support

5 February 2008

MEDIA RELEASE

Legal Aid Law Just The Beginning: Victim Support

A proposed law change that prevents crime victims being asked to repay legal aid must be part of a wider law reform to benefit victims, says Victim Support.

Victim Support applauds Prime Minister Helen Clark’s plan to overhaul the legal aid system in response to murder victim Karl Kuchenbecker’s family being asked to repay legal aid for a coroner’s inquest.

However, the national organisation that supports victims of crime and trauma, has released a document this week urging the Government to make other key 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, emotional and financial 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, Commitment to Parallel Justice, calls for five improvements for victims:
• greater standing in the criminal justice system,
• state-funded reparation,
• expanded state-funded support
• improvements to restorative justice and
• expanded victim assistance schemes.

Mrs Verry said the main focus for election year was strengthening the position of victims in the criminal justice system.

“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 www.victimsupport.org.nz

ends

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