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Avoid the “Oprahfication” of the Courtroom

Select Committee Urged to Avoid the “Oprahfication” of the Courtroom


Rethinking Crime and Punishment agrees that victims should be able to provide information to the court about the effects of offending; and the harm they have suffered. However, it does not believe that the presentation of a victim impact statement in the Court, was the best way to achieve it.

In its oral submission on the Victims of Crime Reform Bill Kim Workman, Director told the Justice and Electoral Select Committee that great care and wisdom will be needed to prevent rhetorical appeals to victims’ suffering to deteriorate into a public skewering of the offender. “At its worst, it could lead to the “Oprahfication” of the Courtroom, , with the TV cameras capturing every twitch of the offender for signs of defiance or remorse, and the New Zealand viewing public casting their votes accordingly.”

“Providing a better service to victims does not always translate into better practise. It would be to the ultimate detriment of the victim if the opportunity to tell the offender in the courtroom how the crime has affected them, became an exercise in retribution. While many victims believe at the that they will feel better for it, research shows that victims who take revenge in this way have often felt worse off than if they had done nothing at all.”

Our experience with restorative justice conferences tells us that the victim’s decision to meet with an offender is driven by one of three things. Firstly, they want to talk about the harm they have suffered, to challenge the offender about their actions, , and have them respond. Secondly, they want to understand why the offender committed the offence, their motivation, and personal circumstances. Thirdly, they want to assess whether the offender is genuinely sorry for what happened.

Victims will continue to be dissatisfied with the proposed arrangements, because the Court does not allow for that sort of dialogue. That is not its function. It leaves victims feeling angry and disempowered.

Mr Workman recommended that instead of a victim reading out a statement, a private facilitated meeting be held between the offender and victim, at which the victim was free to make their feelings known within acceptable limits, and the offender had the opportunity to respond. The outcome of the meeting would then be reported back to the Court, achieving the same purpose as a Victim Impact Statement, but in a way that was more satisfying to the victim.

Reference: Oral Submission to Justice and Electoral Select Committee at:
http://www.rethinking.org.nz/assets/GeneralPDF/120405%20Oral%20Submission%20to%20Justice%20and%20Electoral%20Select%20Committee%20on%20Victims%20of%20Crime%20Reform%20Bill.pdf

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