New Zealand has some way to go before appropriately catching up with other jurisdictions in the way it deals with people who are caught up, through no fault of their own, in the criminal justice system. I instance Victoria, which is a very comparable jurisdiction to ours in terms of wealth, population, and cultural background in many ways. I also instance the Victims of Crime Assistance Tribunal that operates in Victoria.
I was fortunate in 2007 to get the opportunity, as part of one of the select committee exchanges that this Parliament operates from time to time, to go and observe the Victims of Crime Assistance Tribunal in action. It was an interesting trip, I have to tell the House, because the National members of the Justice and Electoral Committee—Chris Finlayson, Chris Auchinvole, and Nicky Wagner—decided, in one of those endearing little stunts that parliamentarians decide to pull from time to time, to boycott the trip, protesting against travel on the taxpayer.
Yes, they were living in the past; Mr Carter is quite right. But the trip was interesting on another front, and that is because we had the then Māori Party member Hone Harawira with us. But he decided to go up to the Northern Territory and have a look at the intervention going on there at the time. So in the end there was Lynne Pillay—who gave such an excellent valedictory speech earlier on—as chair of the committee; there was, I think, Ann Hartley, the other Labour member; and there was Nandor Tanczos and me.
We met with the deputy chair of the Victims of Crime Assistance Tribunal, we met with a number of lawyers who had interaction with that tribunal, we met with counsellors who were attached to the tribunal, and we learnt about the very comprehensive regime that Victoria has put in place to try to help people who have become the victims of crime.
Two aspects of the regime in Victoria really struck me. First of all, victims of crime have an automatic entitlement to compensation, and that compensation is designed to try to make them whole following the crime they have suffered. For example, if there has been a burglary, then one of the powers the tribunal has is to order payment for the replacement of the locks on the home or the broken windows that the homeowner or tenant has suffered as a result of the burglary. It is about making the victim whole again after having suffered what they have suffered.
To an extent we have some of this system reflected already in New Zealand in the accident compensation regime, but it is not a comprehensive system directed at repairing victims. It is by-chance compensation if people have an ACC entitlement by reason of having suffered personal injury by accident.
The other thing that really struck me about the Victorian regime was the fact that the tribunal held hearings. The victim got a chance to go along to a safe judicial process and tell their story—to tell the presiding magistrate, as it is in Victoria, what it was like to go through the experience they went through. The magistrate could order counselling, and the magistrate could order compensation, and that was, indeed, the default position under the Victims of Crime Assistance Tribunal system. It is a therapeutic approach to the experience that victims have in the system.
This legislation would replace or, at least, in many ways, update and amend the Victims’ Rights Act 2002—a very good piece of legislation that the last Labour Government enacted through this Parliament. That legislation replaced the Victims of Offences Act 1987, which was really the first time—again, under a Labour Government—that this Parliament comprehensively addressed the rights, the needs, and the interests of people who have been, as I said earlier, caught up, through no fault of their own, in the criminal justice system.
I have reservations about whether this updating goes far enough. I wonder whether we will still be behind jurisdictions like Victoria once we have gone through this exercise, and I have some other reservations, frankly, about the way in which we are approaching the debate around victims. Again I refer back to the words that we heard from Lynne Pillay earlier. She was a well-respected chair of the Justice and Electoral Committee for 3 years. She presided over the inquiry into victims’ rights, and the officials’ recommendations from that inquiry led to the legislation that we are considering now. I do recall one thing she said, which was that a bipartisan approach is needed on the issue of the interests of victims.
I also recall the warning we received from the Chief Justice a year or two ago on the increasingly shrill rhetoric about trying to jam victims into our criminal justice system. Our system does not have a natural place for the victim. The old adversarial system consists of the Crown and the defendant, and to try to graft a third player into the system without very, very careful thought is to risk doing things to the system by way of unintended consequences that I do not think anybody in this House would find particularly desirable.
Also, I do not think there is any merit in attaching a consideration of the rights of victims to rhetoric around vindictiveness in our criminal justice system. No end of the political spectrum or the debate on criminal justice has a monopoly on caring about the rights and interests of victims, and if we allow that sort of rhetoric to engage and invade the debate, then, frankly I do not think we are doing victims any great service.
I also think it is a shame that this legislation, which would update an Act that is now 9 years old, is coming to the House in only the last week of this Parliament. For all the rhetoric about victims, this legislation can possibly go nowhere until February at the earliest, so I think it is appropriate to reflect again on the rhetoric around victims’ interests and on whether it is bona fide rhetoric or whether it is simply words.
This legislation will come back to the next Parliament, and Labour will evaluate it carefully, either in Opposition or in Government. We will make sure that as we seek as a Parliament to advance the victims’ agenda, we will do it in a way that is balanced and respectful of the way other parts of the system work.
I am exceptionally thankful that I have never been the victim of a very serious crime. I have met, like others in this Parliament will have done, a number of victims of serious crime, and we can see how hard that is. There is not only perhaps hospitalisation and the physical pain of it all but also, of course, the emotional torture of looking behind one’s back, nightmares, and being fearful. Then sometimes, in the worst of cases, there is the re-brutalisation through the court process. I often think that the families of victims—because we know now that a victim is not just the person to whom the crime has happened; it is wider than that—certainly in the most serious of crimes, can be even more badly affected. They can be the ones who have to live on while their loved one is gone, or they are perhaps in a state where they can no longer communicate with their loved one, or what have you. For those families it is even worse sometimes, because they have no power to do anything. They may not be a witness or have any role in the court process.
I have heard psychologists talk about this. They say that it is very difficult for victims to get their head around the fact that this may just be a random thing. They want to ascribe some sort of fatefulness to it—did they deserve it, what had they done, why them? It is all very well for others to say that they should move on; they cannot just move on.
We come to this Victims of Crime Reform Bill and the history of victims’ rights in this country. We are implementing the Government’s reform package regarding victims of crime. The ultimate aim of any society should be not how we treat victims but to have fewer victims, and I think that is probably why the crime statistics have received some attention in the last few days. Ultimately what they mean is fewer victims of crime, and that should be the ultimate goal. But we live in a society where, sadly, I think there will always be victims and, certainly in the court processes and at every step of the way, we need to treat them with dignity and respect and, where possible, we need to give them a voice.
I have talked before in this House about the history of victims’ rights in this country. I give credit to the Labour Government for passing the Victims’ Rights Act 2002. It is important legislation. It gave victims the right to make a statement in court and it broadened the definition of “victim”, as I have said, because victims are not just the people to whom crime happens in a certain time and place. There are also their families and sometimes other loved ones. This bill goes further, and so it should. It strengthens existing provisions of the law and expands the rights of victims. It amends quite a number of pieces of legislation. There are many things that the bill does.
I want to just pick up on one thing. It is not necessarily even the most important thing, but one thing the bill does is to widen the scope of the victim impact statements that victims of crime can give. I have talked already today about the fact that in courts victims can give victim impact statements about the effect of the crime. But there have been a number of limitations on victims. They cannot say anything today about disposition—that is, about the sentence that they think the offender should have. They cannot be unduly emotive, or even really emotive, at all. As a prosecutor, I have had to go through and Vivid out things that victims have said in statements before they go to the judge, as if somehow the judge will be offended by these statements or something like that. In the past I have done that. There have been times when I have not been able to, and the police officers have had to go back to the victim. As one might think, the victim would say: “I thought it was my victim impact statement.” That is quite right—that is how it should be. We are amending the law so that victims can be much freer in their victim impact statements.
Judges should not be swayed by the overly lenient or overly vexatious victim. It is right that a particular crime—say, a wounding with a knife—in similar circumstances should receive about the same penalty at law. But I know that judges are up to the task of taking all that a victim has to say, with the emotions, and with statements like “I wish he would rot in hell.” or “I wish he would rot in jail.” They are wise enough—and, frankly, they are paid enough—to be able to take that. So that one small aspect of this bill is welcome, along with many other things. This is an advancement for victim rights in this country.
I will speak to the Victims of Crime Reform Bill. Labour agrees that victims need to have a greater role in the criminal justice process because there is a lack of visible complaints processes and oversight of victims’ rights, I say to Mr Ashraf Choudhary. In 2007 under the Labour Government the Justice and Electoral Committee conducted an inquiry into victims’ rights. It highlighted some of the issues that finally have been addressed by this bill.
The Law Society has expressed reservations about some of the initiatives presented by the National Government, particularly expanding the role of victims in the courtroom, which might move the courts away from a dispassionate dispensing of justice. Labour will pay close attention to submissions to the Justice and Electoral Committee, to ensure that both the rights of victims and the rights of the accused are balanced to achieve an appropriate and fair outcome. As one of the Labour members of that select committee, I assure the House that we will do that. The Law Society supports the move in the legislation to give adult victims the right to read their statements in court, but subjecting children to further court processes might not be a particularly positive advancement of children’s rights. Furthermore, the use of pictures could be misleading.
The Ministry of Justice has identified three broad concerns that victims of crime face. First, victims find it frustrating to deal with multiple Government agencies to get information about the criminal justice system, their rights, and services. Second, the mechanisms for making criminal justice agencies accountable for the information they provide or the services they deliver to victims are weak. Third, many victims find the current criminal justice processes bewildering and feel that they do not have any role in the criminal case involving them.
My colleague Charles Chauvel spoke earlier and said that we needed to reflect on some of the rhetoric, and we needed to recognise that New Zealand has some way to go in dealing appropriately with those caught up in the criminal justice system, through no fault of their own. The rhetoric we have listened to from the National Government over the course of its 3 years in office has been concerning at times, because the rhetoric does not necessarily match the action. We have seen examples where, unfortunately, victims have been re-victimised by that National Government. A good example was highlighted by the member Lynne Pillay in her valedictory speech earlier this evening. She talked about the re-victimisation of sexual abuse victims that was undertaken by the National Government through ACC’s denial of counselling to sexual abuse victims. She spoke of the incredible harm that was caused and the fact that these victims basically were re-victimised by the system, by ACC, and by the National Government. Lynne Pillay took over the victims’ rights portfolio but unfortunately the re-victimisation did not end.
Continuing on from that time we saw even further re-victimisation when Dr Peter Jansen attempted to sue a victim of sexual abuse for a quarter of a million dollars. That re-victimisation was horrendous. All that occurred was that that victim of sexual abuse dared to speak out and dared to attack the Government and question Dr Peter Jansen, Nick Smith, and the National Government on their decision to deny sexual abuse victims the right to counselling. Although we have heard, through the rhetoric, that the National Government purports to stand up for victims and wants to legislate in order to ensure increased protection for victims, in some of the actions that have been undertaken by this National Government one has to wonder whether the spiel matches what it is actually doing.
Labour will be supporting this bill being referred to the select committee, but we will be watching it very carefully in respect of the reservations that I have expressed and that were expressed more articulately by my colleague Charles Chauvel in his speech. Thank you very much.
The Green Party has a broadly similar approach to the Victims of Crime Reform Bill as has been set out by all members here tonight. We recognise that the bill is part of a broader package that the Government is putting forward, in terms of what it calls a comprehensive work programme to improve the status of victims of crime. This particular bill is generated by a concern that has been drawn from information from a range of sources that victims of crime find it difficult to understand criminal justice processes and their role in these processes, that a number of victims would like a greater role in the criminal justice process and be better informed about the cases involving them, and that a lack of visible complaints processes and oversight of victims’ rights have limited the accountability of agencies. So there is a variety of difficulties and problems that I think are well recognised across parties, and there is a warrant for further reform legislation along these lines.
The legislation proposes four or five particular broad areas. In respect of victim impact statements the bill gives victims greater freedom to express their feelings in their own words. It gives victims of serious crime the automatic right to read their statements in court. It gives victims of offending by children and young people the right to attend a Youth Court and to submit a victim impact statement, and it would allow photographs and drawings to be submitted as part of such a statement. The bill also strengthens changes in the victim notification system in various ways. It widens the eligibility of victims who can receive notice, increases the number of victims who receive notice about bail defenders, and expands the information that victims receive about offenders on short-term sentences. The bill requires justice sector agencies to have complaints processes and to report annually to Parliament. It ensures that victims’ rights in the adult criminal jurisdiction are applied in the Youth Court jurisdiction. It gets the Ministry of Justice to develop a victims code in order to improve responsiveness and accountability. Those are all broadly desirable goals, we think. As a result, the Green Party is generally supportive of the bill.
We think the clarity and slightly more expansive approach to victim impact statements will be helpful. The broadening into the youth justice area makes sense to us, as does the increased focus on restorative justice. I think it has been mentioned already—and we certainly share some of the reservations that have been expressed—but we think there is reason for pause and that we should not proceed too headlong with this bill. It represents a diminution of the adversarial nature of our justice system that is based on a delicate relationship between the State and a criminal defendant. There are various questions that will need to be asked—for example, what is the impact on a victim who can make these statements to an offender in a court but who might be denied a response from the offender? There is research that suggests that the victim can become more traumatised, rather than less traumatised, by that experience. We need also to consider the impact on the offender, and the impact of being publicly denounced without a right of reply.
As I think has already been noted, this bill draws on the Justice and Electoral Committee’s report of 2007 Inquiry into Victims’ Rights, which was initiated by the Green Party and in which we had a role. We are keen to assess the extent to which the bill—either as it is currently drafted or if it is amended by the select committee—might reflect the recommendations that came out of that committee report. That inquiry was a comprehensive look at what needs to be done to reform our justice system to become more inquisitorial and to focus on protecting those who have been hurt by crime. The bill incorporates some aspects of the goal of becoming a more inquisitorial system, and it addresses some aspects that relate to protecting and helping those who have been hurt by crime, so to that extent it reflects the committee’s report. But the bill directly incorporates only 12 of the 38 recommendations in the report, as we assess it, and most of the emphasis of the report’s recommendations that have been included in the bill are among the easiest kind to include. So there is a need to scrutinise the bill a little more thoroughly, and we certainly intend to do that.
In short, we think the bill does not yet do enough to create support networks and to fully fund counselling and support for victims. There are, perhaps, privacy issues around the victim notification system for former criminals, but we think that supporting the bill to the select committee will allow us to hear the evidence for and against the provisions of the bill. We are prepared to support it at its first reading, but simply stress that there are flaws in the bill as it is currently drafted and that we intend to suggest constructive change.
Tēnā koe. Ka nui te mihi ki a koe i tēnei pō. Kia ora tātou. As other members of the House have said tonight, the Victims of Crime Reform Bill amends the Victims’ Rights Act 2002, the Children, Young Persons, and Their Families Act 1989, the Parole Act 2002, and the Sentencing Act 2002. In establishing such a wide scope for the bill, it is already legislation with a fairly wide brief.
I will make a few comments that will provide an even broader context, and that is to include the context of Māori victimisation as our starting point for change. If the Minister has not already come across it, I refer him to an excellent piece of research that was compiled by Fiona Cram from Ngāti Kahungunu, Leonie Pīhama from Te Atiawa, Ngāti Māhanga, and Matewiki Karehana from Ngāi Te Rangi, under the auspices of the international research institute for Māori and indigenous education. Their report, which is called Meeting the Needs of Māori Victims of Crime, is set in the context that Māori victimisation rates are high. In fact, in the New Zealand Crime and Safety Survey 2006 the rate of Māori victimisation is 1.3 times the European rate. Assaults, threats, and damage to personal property were the major crime types contributing to the high rates of personal victimisation for Māori. Māori have a prevalence rate two to three times that of Europeans for all these offence types, and especially high rates of violent offences by partners and other people well-known to the victim. But even more depressing was the fact that a person’s chances of being multiply victimised were higher if he or she was Māori. Irrespective of the type of crime or incident, prevalence, or crime concentration rates, these differences for Māori victims were very real.
These factors therefore form the foundation for how we should understand the key priorities and target areas to emerge from this Victims of Crime Reform Bill. The purpose of the bill is to strengthen the existing provisions for victims of crime, expand the rights of victims of serious offences, and ensure victims’ rights in the adult criminal jurisdiction are applied in the youth justice jurisdiction. These are three very important factors, which we naturally support as a consequence of the significance we place upon supporting all those who have fallen victim to the abusive crime.
I will raise a few questions that Cram, Pīhama, and Karehana first identified. They suggest to us that the term “victim” is often seen as problematic, because of its association as a solely individual experience, whereas a transgression impacts on those linked by whakapapa to the transgressed and to Māori as a whole. To put this in a simpler context, when a person hits a Māori person they are in fact hitting all of those who are joined as descendants and ancestors to that individual. The damage to one is damage to all.
Another issue they raised is that the term “victim” often implies powerlessness, and as such the labelling of someone as a victim may hinder resolution. Cram, Pīhama, and Karehana also challenged this House to consider that notions of both victim and crime must be viewed within the historical context. For Māori this context is the history of colonisation within this country. I think these concepts are really important to think about as we look at the proposals in this bill to enhance the victim notification system, increase the rights of victims of offending by children and young persons, strengthen the accountability of agencies in extending the application of general rights of victims, and improve provisions for victim impact statements.
We believe that what is most important and most needed is a holistic approach to the reduction of crime, by looking at the perpetrator, the offender, and the causes of crime, including poverty, lack of education, and institutional racism. We need to focus on the existing justice system to ensure that healing and resolution is acknowledged as a crucial platform for victims.
The Māori Party seeks to promote restorative justice systems, where victims are empowered, and to advocate to enhance community involvement in the justice process. In many respects, therefore, the proposals included in this legislation help to strengthen the opportunities for support for whānau through care and concern for victims, which we absolutely endorse. We are particularly pleased at the initiative to improve provisions for victim impact statements, as covered by Mr Kennedy Graham. This is an initiative which, of course, came through clearly from the traumatic events surrounding the court hearing associated with the tragedy of Sophie Elliott. We think it is important to acknowledge that no family should ever go through the ordeal again of having their statements altered.
I want to conclude my contribution to the debate with four key recommendations that arise out of the work quoted earlier, namely, Meeting the Needs of Māori Victims of Crime. These recommendations are that mainstream support services be encouraged to become more accessible, user-friendly, and culturally appropriate for Māori victims of crime; that a kaupapa Māori service be established for Māori victims of crime, and a kaupapa Māori service be resourced as a one-stop shop for Māori victims of crime; and that the Māori processes of resolution be resourced.
There are other ways and other matters that must be given due attention as well. Researchers demonstrated that ethnic minority offenders are more likely to be the victim of violence while in custody. We would like to know whether this is taken into account within the legislation. The validity of victim recourse studies has been widely questioned, due to problems with victim memory decay, a tendency for victims to revert to racial stereotypes of offenders, and, perhaps most crucially, the fact that only a small subset of crimes are actually witnessed by the victim. We seek some response from the Minister and, indeed, the community through the select committee stage, as to whether this issue is adequately addressed in this bill.
Finally, we note that the collection and use of ethnic data in the justice sector in New Zealand was recently reviewed by Statistics New Zealand. The review concluded that there is little need for all justice datasets to be able to be disaggregated by ethnicity, age, gender, and location, to establish and monitor the extent of offending by victimisation of Māori, and interventions that work well for Māori. It was further noted that ethnicity data collected by New Zealand Police, and also utilised by the Ministry of Justice, did not comply with the New Zealand statistical standard for ethnicity. As a consequence, the New Zealand Police data was not compatible with ethnicity data from other official sources.
These latter matters were raised in the very comprehensive research compiled by Bronwyn Morrison entitled Identifying and Responding to Bias in the Criminal Justice System: A Review of International and New Zealand Research, which was produced just last year. We hope that all of these issues may form part of the ongoing debate in supporting and protecting victims of crime, as part of families, and as part of our communities. We support this particular bill at its first reading.
Tēnā koe. Tēnā koutou e te Whare. It is pleasing to stand and speak to the introduction of the Victims of Crime Reform Bill. Of course, members will be aware that this is just another of the many steps that this National Government has taken in putting crime and the effects of crime at the very front edge of this Government’s policies. It is in fact salient to reflect that one of the first bills that we passed when we came into office was the bill that created the $50 offender levy, to create funds for the victims of crime. As I stand here today, over $3 million has already been collected to provide 13 new services to those victims.
As the 49th Parliament draws to a close, yet again this Government has at the front of its mind the victims of crime. We believe that the support they get during the process of grieving and adversity that has been impacted on them needs to be given even more support, so this bill is aimed at filling that gap further.
I was somewhat intrigued by the contribution of my good friend and honourable colleague Mr Kennedy Graham to this debate. Although he is supporting the bill, he seemed concerned about the rights of the offender, and concerned that this bill might create an imbalance between the rights of the offender and the rights of the victim. I was somewhat intrigued by that, because he seemed to think that the offender might not have an opportunity, in terms of a right of reply to the victim’s impact statement. So I look forward to having a conversation with Kennedy Graham when we return in the 50th Parliament, at the Justice and Electoral Committee, about issues like this, because it is good to be able to thrash them out during the select committee process.
I am very pleased to stand here—probably for the last time on this occasion under this Parliament—to support such an important bill in respect of a programme of activity, of work, that this Government has been focused on, which is to reduce crime. Of course, the latest statistics we have seen continue to support and enhance the outstanding work that the Minister of Police and the Minister of Justice have done, as a tag team, to bring a safer environment to our communities. I for one am very proud—as I am sure Mr Assistant Speaker Robertson, certainly all members on this side of the House, and I suspect, begrudgingly, members of the Opposition are very proud—of the work that has been done in this area of activity.
So with those few words, it gives me great pleasure to support this bill at its first reading.
It is a pleasure to stand and speak on the Victims of Crime Reform Bill, at this its first reading. Labour is supporting this bill, as others will have said, being referred to a select committee.
The purpose of this bill is worth just outlining again, because I think that it is always important at first reading debates to understand what we are dealing with. The objectives of the bill are to strengthen the existing general provisions in legislation for victims of crime, to expand the rights of victims of serious offences, to give victims more opportunity to be involved in criminal justice processes by ensuring they are better informed about their rights, to increase the accountability and responsiveness of Government agencies providing services to victims, and to ensure that victims’ rights in the adult criminal justice jurisdiction are applied in the youth justice jurisdiction. We will probably go through some of those in a little more detail, but this is an omnibus bill and it amends four different Acts: the Victims’ Rights Act 2002, the Children, Young Persons, and Their Families Act 1989, the Parole Act 2002, and the Sentencing Act 2002.
Certainly, Labour agrees that victims need to have a greater role in the criminal justice process, because there is a lack of a visible complaints process and oversight of victims’ rights. I think that in recent times the debate has come around to a recognition that our justice system should obviously serve the interests of us as a society, in ensuring that the rules on which we all agree are in place and are enforced; that those who break those rules should face some consequences, but that the processes around that should be fair and just; but also that those who have been hurt by crime, if you like, should be part of that equation. We certainly agree with that, and with the need to look closely at it. It was under the Labour Government in 2007 that the Justice and Electoral Committee conducted an inquiry into victims’ rights, which highlighted some of the issues that are finally being addressed in this bill, so to that extent this bill is a logical next step.
It is interesting to be speaking about this bill, having spoken earlier today on the criminal procedure legislation, because alongside all of these types of initiatives there are very important questions of balance and very important questions about ensuring that justice is in fact served. We have a system that is set up in a particular way. We need to make sure that in trying to look at one group we do not severely disadvantage or undermine those fundamental principles that we have in our justice system.
The Law Society has expressed reservations about some of the initiatives presented by the Government, particularly expanding the role of victims in the courtroom, which might move the courts away from the dispassionate dispensing of justice. Certainly, I think all members on the select committee—and I am assuming; I am sorry but I do not know whether the bill will come to the Justice and Electoral Committee. But whichever select committee it is I think all members will pay close attention to submissions to the select committee to ensure that both victims’ rights and the rights of the accused are balanced, to achieve appropriate and fair outcomes. I think that that sense of balance is really important.
Despite the Law Society’s reservations that I have just mentioned, it does support moves in the legislation to give adult victims the right to read their statements in court. But on the question of subjecting children to further court processes, that might not be a particularly positive advancement of children’s rights. That is a live question, I think, and certainly again at the select committee close attention will need to be paid to what is best for children in this whole process.
The Ministry of Justice, in the regulatory impact statement, has identified three broad concerns facing victims of crime. First, victims find it frustrating dealing with multiple Government agencies to get information about the criminal justice system, their rights, and services. It seems to me that that should be readily able to be fixed. To start to make that access to information much more streamlined and effective for those victims seems a very sensible suggestion. After all, victims of crime, especially victims of violent crimes—domestic violence, sexual violence, and the like—are already traumatised by those crimes, and we need to make sure that the agencies they deal with make the process as smooth and as supportive as possible for them. That was one of the three broad concerns of the Ministry of Justice.
The second concern is that the mechanisms for making criminal justice agencies accountable for the information they provide, or the services they deliver to victims, are very weak. There is that sense of getting greater accountability in ensuring that victims do get good service from those agencies. Again, I make the point that many victims are already traumatised by the crime they have experienced, and it seems to me to be a reasonable proposition that there should be some accountability—that agencies dealing with victims do so in a manner that does not further victimise those victims, or does not make the trauma they are already dealing with worse.
The third concern that the ministry identified in the regulatory impact statement is that many victims find the current criminal justice processes bewildering, and they feel that they do not have any role in a criminal case involving them. Again, if people have been traumatised or really undermined by crimes that have been committed against them, they do not want a court process that just reinforces that—a process that further makes them feel as though they are being undermined, and that their confidence and self-esteem is being lessened. I can see that those three broad concerns are certainly relevant. I know for a fact that many women who have been victims of violent crime often find those things to be so. Dealing with those areas seems to me to be very important.
I will talk about the main provisions of the bill. First of all, in respect of the amendments to the Victims’ Rights Act, some of the provisions relate to the definition of “victim”, and there are questions around the duty to inform victims. These questions are about the agencies that provide information. Information about proceedings must be given to victims. I think this is a really good point. This makes sure that in dealing with the criminal justice system, a victim of crime is clear about what will be happening, what their role in it will be, what they will be expected to do—all of those sorts of things—so that they know what will happen in advance. The bill also goes on to look at information in victim impact statements. It provides that information ascertained from a victim in a victim impact statement may include photographs, drawings, or other visual representations, which is pretty important.
Part 1 talks about a code for victims. It will require the preparation of a code for victims for the purpose of providing information about their statutory rights, services available to them, and duties and responsibilities of Government agencies. In preparing that code, the secretary preparing it must undertake consultation. The code must be then approved and signed by the Minister of Justice before it takes effect. The Secretary for Justice must publish the notice of the Minister’s approval of the code in the Gazette. That sounds like a very sensible suggestion. That is in terms of changes to the Victims’ Rights Act.
There are also changes to the Children, Young Persons, and Their Families Act 1989. This bill redefines the term “victim” in that Act to align it with the definition in the Victims’ Rights Act. It also requires a prosecutor to make reasonable efforts to ascertain and convey to the Youth Court the views of victims of specified offences before an order is made releasing or detaining a child or young person in custody. There are also changes to that Act to the custody of a child or young person pending hearing. Those are the areas that are covered in that particular Act.
The changes to the Parole Act are to section 4, again, to update the definition of “victim”, and to section 44 in terms of what information may be available to victims. So these amendments are about aligning those Acts. In respect of the Sentencing Act 2002 and restorative justice, the bill requires the District Court in certain cases to adjourn proceedings at any time before sentencing to enable inquiries to be made to determine whether a restorative justice process is appropriate in the circumstances. So those are the main changes to those Acts.
I am rising tonight to take a call on the first reading of the Victims of Crime Reform Bill, which, as we have heard, will amend the Victims’ Rights Act.
It is interesting that earlier this evening I was lucky enough to take a call on the Criminal Procedure (Reform and Modernisation) Bill. In that contribution I spoke about some of the steps that this Government has taken to improve the lot of victims in our justice system. This bill really is another step along that path. I think it is worth just going through that, because they really are part of a comprehensive package that National set out, initially in Opposition, when we said that if we had the privilege of becoming the Government, one of our key priorities was to ensure that the victims of crime—the people who are in the system through no fault of their own—are treated considerably better than they had been treated to that point.
That has taken a number of steps. We have been busy addressing drivers of crime, and we have seen the success of that with the crime stats that have been released in the last few days. It is down 7 percent nationally, and nearly 15 percent in Canterbury, I am very pleased to say. We have seen the offender levy, which the Opposition derided as a meaningless gimmick, yet a full 5 months ahead of schedule it has reached its first-year target. As a result of that legislation, victims are accessing right now real, meaningful services and support that they would not otherwise have had. That is a meaningful step to make victims’ lives easier, which the Labour Opposition derided, criticised, and clearly opposed. Police safety orders have been put in place to ensure that our victims of domestic violence get on-the-spot protection as they need it, when they need it from the police. We have improved access to, and funding for, restorative justice. The last piece this evening, which I mentioned earlier, was to ensure that where we could, we could reduce the cost and time delays of being involved in the criminal court processes. Anyone who has been involved in that process knows that it is tremendously stressful for victims of crime to have to relive the matter over and over again for months and months on end, while our criminal justice system grinds away to a very slow outcome.
The next step is to look at the issues that this bill addresses. Those issues relate to making sure that victims are far better involved in the court process as it is going through, and making sure that they are getting the information they need about the process, the proceedings, what is going on before the trial, what is happening during the trial, and, of course, at the other end what is happening when the convicted person may be put out on bail, and during their sentencing. It is about ensuring that victims can involve themselves in those proceedings in a way that is more meaningful for them, particularly around reviewing the laws on victim impact statements.
One of the parts that has not been talked about as much in some of the contributions tonight, but which I think is very important, is requiring the establishment of a code for victims to ensure that in the future when decisions are made in the justice system, the rights and the entitlements of victims are at the very centre of those decisions.
I just have to say in closing that I find it quite ironic that I have spent most of the past week as part of the Justice and Electoral Committee looking at the Video Camera Surveillance (Temporary Measures) Bill, and as part of that committee process we have had certain parties in this House become very exercised about the rights of offenders and making sure that we looked after the rights of offenders. Well, they do have a place, but I can tell this House that the rights that I am far more interested in are the rights of the victims. If it is a balancing act between the offenders’ rights under our system and the victims’ rights, my money is on the victims’ rights every single time. I would far rather this House put its energies, its efforts, and its passion into protecting the rights of victims every time, and I am very happy to commend the bill.
As has been mentioned, Labour will support the Victims of Crime Reform Bill to the Justice and Electoral Committee because we think it is very important that every New Zealander has the right to present a submission in front of parliamentarians and because that is way that good law is made.
We just heard an incredible speech from Amy Adams. She said that when it comes to victims’ rights versus offenders’ rights, then it is victims’ rights the whole time. Well, my personal view is that we must protect the rights of every New Zealander. Of course victims’ rights are paramount, and that is why this bill is before the House, and it is why we are supporting it. Having said that, the rights of every New Zealander—no matter where they are, who they are, or what they are—are very, very important. For me, and I think for most New Zealanders, we cannot say that one person’s rights are more important than another person’s rights. Amy Adams, who is actually a lawyer, said that one group of people’s rights are more important than another group of people’s rights. Personally, I find that quite offensive, because for me the rights of every single New Zealander are important.
When we are talking about victims’ rights, we are talking about law relating to crime, which is where I think it becomes very, very emotional. That is why we end up with groups like the Sensible Sentencing Trust. We all want sensible sentencing—of that there is no doubt. But I do not think there are many people who say we should be locking people up, throwing away the keys, and letting them rot. I think most people agree that incarceration should also be about rehabilitation, so that people can come out and become productive members of society.
As mentioned, the rights of every New Zealander are most important. It is interesting that it took until 2002 for the Victims’ Rights Bill to actually be introduced, by the Labour Government of course. Ms Adams may be interested to know that under the Labour Government the Justice and Electoral Committee conducted an inquiry into victims’ rights in 2007, which highlighted some of the issues that have finally been addressed by this bill. I suggest to Ms Adams that if she was so passionate about victims’ rights, then perhaps it should not have been left till the final week of the final year of this term of Parliament for her to get passionate about that. Perhaps Ms Adams should have been passionate about that in the first week of the first year. But it is good to see passion—of that there is no doubt.
Of course everyone in this House stands up for those who are victims of crime. As the old saying goes, “There is no such thing as a victimless crime.” Although we are hard on crime—and we are hard on crime because the people of New Zealand demand that we are hard on crime—we also must create a society and a system that makes it very easy for victims to access absolutely everything that is possibly available to help them through what is often a very traumatic time, not only having been a victim of crime but also then having to relive this through the whole court process. I bet that can be quite traumatic for a lot of people.
There is something called the New Zealand Crime and Safety Survey. It estimated the level of unreported and reported crime experienced by New Zealanders over the age of 15. This was undertaken in 2008. Some of its key findings are interesting: 36 percent of people experienced some form of victimisation; assaults made up 27 percent of all offences and threats made up just over 21 percent; 33 percent of all offences were reported to police, reporting rates varied by type; and 6 percent of victims experience 54 percent of victimisations. The thing I suppose that is rather damning is that 33 percent of all offences were reported to police. That means that about 67 percent of offences were not reported to police. There may be a number of reasons for this, but one thing we must make absolutely certain is that if victims are reporting crimes to police then, as mentioned, we need to make it very easy for those victims to access everything that is available and to work through the court system.
The Victims’ Rights Act 2002 outlines the principles that guide the treatment of victims. The provisions of the Act are consistent with the current criminal justice system laws and processes and the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act. Under the Victims’ Rights Act, victims are to be provided with certain information about the services they are eligible for and about the progress of their case through the courts. Victims are also able to provide the courts with information on the impact of the offences on them. We see a lot of this, and often this provides the dramatic footage we see on television about cases, where usually the families of victims speak out and outline to the court, to the people, and also to the perpetrator of that crime what damage this has done not only to the victim but to the victim’s family, friends, and society in general. However, in regard to victims of certain interpersonal offences, the Act also ensures that victims are entitled to receive notification of certain events, particularly custody and parole matters relating to the accused or the offender. As mentioned, is it not interesting that it took until 2002 under Labour to get the Victims’ Rights Act?
However, what needs to happen, and the reason for this bill, is the improvement of the role of victims in the criminal justice system. For the purposes of the review that was undertaken by the Ministry of Justice, the ministry identified the problems and issues, and the potential solutions using information from a wide range of sources. So this bill is a consequence of a lot of consultation within the community and right across the country.
The aim of this bill is to improve Government agencies’ responsiveness and accountability to victims of crime and to enhance the rights and role of victims of crime in the criminal justice process. What this will do is increase victims’ engagement in the court process, ensure some court processes more directly address the needs of victims, enable victims to be better informed about the progress of the offender’s sentence, and ensure that those agencies that provide services to victims are more accountable to victims for the delivery of those services.
The Law Society has expressed reservations about some of the initiatives presented by the Government in this bill, particularly expanding the role of victims in the courtroom, which might move the courts away from a dispassionate dispensing of justice. This is one of the reasons why we will be very clearly watching the select committee process. We are interested to see what the Law Society and other organisations involved in justice delivery have to say about this. We will pay very close attention to submissions to the select committee, to ensure that both victims’ rights and the rights of the accused are balanced to achieve an appropriate and a fair outcome.
The fundamental principle of our legal system is that one is innocent until proven guilty, so everyone must have a fair trial. However, the Law Society supports moves in the legislation to give adult victims the right to read their statements in court. But subjecting children, as Carol Beaumont mentioned, to further court processes might not be a particularly positive advancement of children’s rights. Furthermore, the use of pictures can be misleading.
The Ministry of Justice, as mentioned, has identified three broad concerns that face victims of crime. Victims find it frustrating to deal with multiple agencies, and I can imagine that. Taxpayers find it frustrating sometimes dealing with multiple agencies. When one has to relive this trauma again and again it can be not only frustrating but damning and degrading. The mechanisms for making criminal justice agencies accountable for the information they provide or the services they deliver to victims are weak. As has been mentioned, we often talk about the perpetrators of these crimes and we often forget about the victims. Often the victims are not only the person who has had a crime perpetrated on him or her; often it is the also the children, the family, or the wider community, friends, etc. So the victims of crimes can be wide and varied. Many victims find the current criminal justice processes to be bewildering and feel that they do not have a role in criminal cases involving them.
That is about all I have to say on this bill. As mentioned, we will be supporting its referral to the select committee. We look forward to hearing submissions on it.
I stand to debate the first reading of the Victims of Crime Reform Bill. National is focused on putting victims at the heart of the criminal justice system. They find that the criminal justice system is a confusing minefield to trawl through. This Government was elected to improve the justice system. The Government’s response is the Victims of Crime Reform Bill to enhance the rights and services provided to victims of crime and ensure they receive positive and encouraging outcomes. This bill builds on the eight additional services for victims of crime that were introduced last year and funded through the $50 offender levy.
The purpose of this bill is to change the law relating to the victims of crime, to enhance victims’ rights, and to increase the accountability of Government agencies that provide services to victims. This bill will broaden the matter of what a victim can include in his or her victim impact statement, allowing the victims to include a photograph or a drawing with their statement and provide victims of serious offences with the right to read their statement in court. This is an important and crucial provision to make victims feel more empowered, confident, and able to give a full and complete statement in court.
This bill will also extend the opportunity and improve the effectiveness of the victim notification system, such as notifying victims when an offender is convicted for breaching their release condition relating to their victim or their victim’s families. This is also a very significant provision. There have been many incidents recorded where a victim’s family feels threatened by an offender who is in breach of his or her release conditions.
Before I conclude I would like to reiterate that this Government, led by the Rt Hon John Key, is committed to strengthening the existing legislation relating to the victims of crime, and to expanding the rights of victims of serious offences. They should be better informed of their rights. I commend this bill to the House.
It is a privilege to stand up and take a call this evening on the Victims of Crime Reform Bill. I do not intend to take up my full 10-minute speaking slot. One of the great privileges of being a member of Parliament is to come into this Chamber to present one’s views and to debate with fellow members of Parliament, so given that I expect this to be my last week of Parliament and my last opportunity to do so, having listened to the debate I felt honour bound to come down here and express some of those views.
We have heard in the House this afternoon National members crowing about the reduction in crime.
They have been crowing about the 7 percent reduction in crime nationally, as Amy Adams reminded us. As we hear from the interjections tonight, that is right. It is right, and this Government should be very proud of its achievement.
It should be very proud of its achievement in that regard, but it is a pity that Amy Adams did not mention one other thing. She talked about what the Government had done and about what National had promoted, but it is a pity that she almost seemed too ashamed to refer to the ACT Party’s three-strikes legislation. The ACT Party campaigned on law and order and on keeping the streets of this country safe more than any other party in this Parliament. It remains one of the great achievements of the ACT Party in the last 3 years to pass that legislation. [Interruption] I hear the heckles, but as we heard so proudly this afternoon from the Minister of Police, crime is down 7 percent. Crime is down 7 percent and why is that? Why is that?
We are debating this afternoon and this evening the Victims of Crime Reform Bill, but we should actually be looking at how we reduce the number of victims. Yes, we need to look at victims’ rights. There is probably no party that is more concerned about the victims of crime, but what the ACT Party has done is actually try to reduce that crime. I remind the members of this House that one of the most important bills that were passed in this Parliament was ACT’s three-strikes bill.
I remind members and the public that this Parliament has taken serious measures to punish repeat serious offenders. I remind members that when someone comes up on their first serious violent offence they are sentenced, they serve what the judge gives, and they get parole. When they come up on their second serious violent offence they are denied parole. They have to serve the sentence they are given. It may not be the maximum sentence for that particular crime, but they have to serve what the court orders. That is very important, but just as important the judge gives them a very serious warning. The judge gives them a very serious warning and the offender is told that if they come back before the court on a third serious offence, they will serve the maximum sentence. In reviewing the Criminal Procedure (Reform and Modernisation) Bill I know there are many criminal charges that carry terms of 7 or 14 years in prison.
Looking through the preamble to the Victims of Crime Reform Bill I see that one of the provisions of this bill is that it will widen the scope of what victims may include in their victim impact statements. It will widen the scope of what victims may include in their victim impact statements. When I think about victims and about victim impact statements, it is hard to ignore the work of the Sensible Sentencing Trust. If there is any organisation that has stood up for the rights of victims, it is the Sensible Sentencing Trust. It is a Hawke’s Bay - based organisation that is operating throughout New Zealand and that actually stands up for the rights of victims. I salute the people who lead that organisation—in particular, Garth and Anne McVicar. But I would like to remind this House this evening that there is another person who worked very closely with the Sensible Sentencing Trust: my former colleague David Garrett. There is no person who did more to push the three-strikes legislation than David Garrett—his intimate knowledge of criminal law and the work that the former parliamentary leader of the ACT Party Rodney Hide did to put that legislation into place. I think we need to acknowledge those two people, because reductions in crime do not just happen. There are things that drive them.
We now have over 700 people who are on their first strike. There are 700 people who are on their first strike and who have appeared before the court, been convicted of a criminal offence, and been warned by the judge that if they come up before the court on a second occasion, they will not be getting parole. Should they come up a third time, they will be serving the maximum sentence.
It was also interesting to hear Amy Adams talk about the fact that for a large part of the last week she and her colleagues in the Justice and Electoral Committee have been considering the Video Camera Surveillance (Temporary Measures) Bill. She said that she would much rather stand up for the victims of crime than for the offenders. She would much rather stand up for the victims of crime than for the offenders. Well, like Stuart Nash, I remind Amy Adams that all New Zealanders have rights. Yes, if a person is convicted of a crime, they should be punished and lose their freedom. If a person is convicted, they lose their freedom, but they do not lose their rights.
It is interesting that we have been debating the Criminal Procedure (Reform and Modernisation) Bill this afternoon, and one of the fundamental tenets of our constitution is that a person is not guilty unless it is proved beyond reasonable doubt. They should not be required to assist in their own prosecution.
The ACT Party has had two great victories in the last couple of weeks. We have secured significant changes to the Criminal Procedure (Reform and Modernisation) Bill. We were instrumental in forcing the Video Camera Surveillance (Temporary Measures) Bill to a select committee, and we will see the results of that on Thursday.
Let me finish how I started. Probably one of our greatest achievements is passing the three-strikes legislation. National members can stand up and talk about the 7 percent reduction in crime, but they should look at why that has happened. Those sorts of things do not happen by accident. The three-strikes legislation is another example of what the ACT Party has achieved in the last 3 years and why we should be returned to Parliament. Thank you.