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New legislation will sideline Victims of crime

A Government Bill coming up for its third reading may well mean we will see dramatic changes in the Justice system, but they will not be of any benefit to the Victims of crime!

The Bill put forward by Andrew Little is looking to introduce a Criminal Cases Review Commission. It was part of the coalition agreement and is reaching the final stages, with the Committee of the house reading today. The purpose of this Bill is to establish an independent body to review criminal convictions and sentences.

The Sensible Sentencing Trust (SST) believe the Criminal Cases Review Commission in its current form, is a missed opportunity for the Government to ensure the rights of Victims of crime are also considered and taken into account in every case.

SST National Spokesperson Jess McVicar says “While this Bill might possibly be of assistance to those few who may have suffered a miscarriage of justice, it has been left very open to interpretation as to which person is eligible to apply; an eligible person being only someone with a conviction or prison sentence imposed. The Bill has also been written in such a way so any Victim that was harmed in the crime under investigation, will be at risk of further trauma and suffering.”

Jess says they are disappointed that there has been no consideration for Victims of crime at all in this bill and are concerned about the added emotional stress this will cause. She says Victims will only be notified of an application if the Commission decides to refer the case to the Court of Appeal (COA) ie at the end of the inquiry.

“This will probably mean that the Victim will either hear about it second hand through the media, or if they are a witness, or when they suddenly receive a request for information, or are summonsed to appear before the Commission.”

“To add more affront to the Victims, only the eligible person will have the right to Legal Aid, there is no such right for the Victims included in the current Bill. This is despite the fact that Victims may be summonsed to appear before the Commission to give evidence (under oath) and produce information which might, in the case of survivors in sex abuse cases, include confidential counseling records. If the Commission decide the case is fit to go to the COA, the Victim will then need to go through the entire process again.”

National party members have voiced similar concerns throughout the Bill’s readings, and have said they would like to see some clear acknowledgment of the effect on Victims of a crime, such as if a person is in danger of being re-victimised by having their case dragged before the Commission and essentially reopened, there will be an element of them being retraumatised and potentially having to relive it all over again.

The National party have raised further concerns that two-thirds of the Commissioners in this Bill are not required to be legally qualified, making untrained and unaccountable Commissioners extremely powerful. The remaining one-third of the Commissioners are not required to have criminal legal expertise or experience.

Jess says the trust hope National will put forward amendments that will ensure Victims of crime are not re-victimised and are thankful they have ensured there is the need for consideration of Victims. “This bill this has unfortunately been kept rather under the radar, and after all we have heard this year about the treatment of Victims of crime, one would have thought the Government would have had a lot more consideration for them, but unfortunately the Victims have been completely side-lined in this."

"We already have an appeals process for convicted offenders, one where Victims do not have any say or input and they are being continually re-victimised throughout the process. It would have been nice if some of the more urgent changes needed for Victims of serious violent crime could have been considered first.”

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