Goff speech to Victim Support Conference
Hon Phil Goff
Minister of Justice
12 October 2001
Goff speech to Victim Support
Chateau on the Park, 189 Deans Avenue, Christchurch
Thank you for the opportunity to speak to you this morning. I have a strong personal commitment to strengthening the position of victims of crime in the criminal justice system and improving the support that is available to them. I am also very much aware of the important role that Victim Support plays in supporting and advocating for the rights of victims of crime.
The results of the 1999 referendum on the criminal justice system showed that New Zealanders have strong views on the operation of the criminal justice system. It was clear from the results of the referendum that New Zealanders did not consider victims of crime to be well served by the current system.
The Government has introduced both legislative and budgetary measures as part of its overall commitment to victims of crime and in response to these public concerns.
The most important of these measures is the Victims’ Rights Bill. The Bill strengthens the rights of victims of crime and introduces a number of new rights. I believe it will make a significant difference to the experience of victims in the criminal justice system.
Under the current Victims of Offences Act 1987, a number of principles are set out detailing what victims should receive from government agencies. There is no obligation on agencies to deliver on these principles. It is also not clear which agencies should be doing what. From what we know about how the Act has been implemented, delivery on these principles has often been haphazard or inconsistent.
The Victims’ Rights Bill changes this situation so that mandatory obligations are imposed on agencies to deliver particular services to victims of crime. The agencies responsible for delivering particular obligations are clearly specified in the Bill. This is a significant change which has long been advocated by Victim Support and others working with victims.
The Victims’ Rights Bill also creates a number of new rights for victims. Victims will have the right to orally present their victim impact statement to the court. There will be conditions placed on the distribution and disclosure of victim impact statements, particularly to the offender. And the range of victims who can go on the Victim Notification Register, and the type of information that can be provided, will be extended.
There are also a number of new rights in relation to name suppression. It has always been assumed that victims prefer to have the identity of an offender suppressed, particularly in cases of sexual offending and when the offender is a family member. However, this is not true for many victims, who believe that the shame of being publicly identified is just punishment for an offender.
Under the Victims’ Rights Bill, the Court will be required to take into account the views of the victim when considering an offender’s application for name suppression. In addition, for certain sexual offences, a victim will be able to over-ride mandatory name suppression.
It is important that the changes which are being made by the Bill are known and understood by victims, lawyers, the judiciary, the general public, and agencies who will be involved in delivering the rights. Therefore, funding has been set aside for a public education programme to communicate and promote awareness of the rights provided in the Bill. This programme is being developed in the Ministry of Justice in consultation with Victim Support and relevant government departments. The programme will be launched as the Bill is passed.
The select committee considering the Victims’ Rights Bill has reported back to Parliament after considering public submissions. I expect the Bill to be passed early next year.
As most of you will be aware, I also instituted a comprehensive review and overhaul of the current system of sentencing and parole. This resulted in new legislation, the Sentencing and Parole Reform Bill, which is currently before Parliament. I expect the Bill to be passed by early next year as well.
While the focus of this Bill is on sentencing and parole matters generally, there are some key provisions to better serve the interests of victims. The current statutory presumption in favour of reparation is being strengthened. Reparation is being extended so that it can be imposed in respect of physical harm, and not just emotional harm or property loss or damage as currently. And Judges will be required to give reasons why reparation has not been imposed.
Victims will also have the right to make oral submissions to the Parole Board or an individual member of that Board. They will be able to make those submissions outside of the prison if they prefer. Those victims who wish to make a submission to the Board will also be able to receive information beforehand about the offender’s progress in prison to better inform their submissions.
In those cases where the Board sees little chance of rehabilitation, there will be provision for more time to lapse between parole hearings. This means that victims will not have to front every year before the Board to express their concerns about an offender being released into the community.
These legislative changes are supported by significant budgetary measures. Budget 2000 included over $8 million over the next four years to strengthen services to victims of crime.
Two of these new services, a travel fund to assist victims to travel to court hearings and a Target Hardening Programme for repeat victims of burglary, are delivered by Victim Support. The travel fund for court hearings complements the travel fund for parole hearings which was established in July of last year.
These initiatives are providing vital extra support to victims of crime and have been very well received by those victims who have benefited from them. Over 80 victims have been assisted through the Target Hardening Programme since it was established, and not one of these victims has been burgled again. This is a significant achievement and is an important part of the Government’s overall strategy to reduce burglary.
This year’s Budget also included new funding of $500,000 for Victim Support itself. As you know, some of this money has gone towards the further development of the new Victim Support database. The database is an important new initiative which has the potential to significantly enhance the delivery of Victim Support services.
The remainder of the 2001 funding has gone to local Victim Support groups. The allocation of this funding was based on the new funding formula and resulted in the majority of groups receiving an increase in funding. I am aware that this funding was greatly needed, and am sure that it has gone some way to alleviating some of the financial difficulties that have been facing local Victim Support groups.
I am also aware that a small number of groups have received a reduction in government funding due to the implementation of the new funding formula. While I am concerned at the fact that some local groups are still struggling financially, it is important the available funding from government is allocated to local groups on a consistent and equitable basis. I am confident that the new funding formula does that.
There are many challenges ahead for Victim Support services in this country. These challenges are both external and internal.
Externally, Victim Support will have a key role to play in supporting the new victims’ rights legislation. Victim Support also has responsibility for a number of new initiatives that have been established by the government as part of its commitment to victims of crime. These have all placed additional pressure on Victim Support in respect of its service delivery to victims.
There are also internal challenges facing Victim Support. This includes the move to the new funding formula this year and the desire by National Office to provide a more professional and consistent service across the country.
From mid 2000, I became the Minister responsible for looking after the government funding of Victim Support. This has enabled me, as Minister of Justice, to more effectively advocate for the rights of victims and the need for effective support services for victims of crime. It has also led to Victim Support and the Ministry of Justice developing a close working relationship at both a policy and administrative level. I know the Ministry is keen to develop this relationship further over the coming years.
I would like to commend you all for your commitment and dedication to supporting victims of crime. I very much admire the work that you all do, and want to ensure that your efforts are properly supported by government. I look forward to continuing to work with your National Office to that end, and wish you well over the next two to three days.