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Justice reforms must do more than tick boxes for victims

The justice system must move beyond a “tick-box” culture and begin offering genuine justice for victims, according to research released by Victim Support today.

The key message from Victim Support’s research Victims’ Voices: The Justice Needs and Experiences of New Zealand Serious Crime Victims was that victims needed to feel they genuinely mattered, said Researcher Dr Petrina Hargrave.

In-depth interviews with serious crime victims revealed that only 32% felt justice had been served and 41% had faith in the justice system. This was despite 86% of research participants’ cases resulting in a guilty verdict for the offender, and 52% resulting in imprisonment.

“We can’t assume justice has been served just because an offender has been found guilty or a hefty sentence has been handed down,” said Dr Hargrave.

“Justice for victims is just as much about how an outcome is reached as it is about the outcome itself.”

Dr Hargrave said victims commonly felt their opportunity to participate in court was tokenism, and that they lacked genuine opportunities to tell their stories, to be heard, and to have the impact of the crime acknowledged.

Victims were often unable to express the true impact of the crime in their victim impact statements because of restrictive court processes.

“If victims lack trust and confidence in the justice system, they are less likely to report crime, so victims’ experience of the justice system is absolutely critical for crime prevention.”

Dr Hargrave said victims described justice as a set of values including fairness, accountability and righting the wrong.

“Whatever reforms are made to our justice system, we have to get the basics right first. The starting point has to be a commitment to understanding victims’ needs and what justice means to them.”

Dr Hargrave said that while most victims were highly satisfied with the support from individuals and support agencies, there was an urgent need for support to be found within the justice system as a whole.

“We’d like to challenge all players in the justice system to do more than tick boxes for victims.

“With improved education about what matters to victims, we can promote empathy and a genuineness currently lacking in the system that will improve victims’ trust, confidence, and wellbeing.

“The bare minimum requirement of a justice system must be that the public has faith in it to protect them and to deliver justice.”

Victim Support’s research builds on growing evidence that victims need to be at the heart of justice reforms, including:

• Chief Victims’ Advisor Dr Kim McGregor’s research, Strengthening the Criminal Justice System for Victims (https://chiefvictimsadvisor.justice.govt.nz/assets/Documents/Publications/8dhfd3-Criminal-Justice-Victims-Survey-report.pdf)

• The preliminary findings of the Te Uepū Hāpai i te Ora Safe and Effective Justice Advisory Group’s report, He Waka Roimata (https://safeandeffectivejustice.govt.nz/assets/Uploads/fa55462d44/teuepureport_hewakaroimata.pdf).

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