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Victims of Crime Reform Bill

First Reading

Thursday 29 September 2011 Hansard source (external site)

PowerHon SIMON POWER (Minister of Justice) Link to this

I move, That the Victims of Crime Reform Bill be now read a first time. At the appropriate time I will move that the bill be considered by the Justice and Electoral Committee. In March 2008, the then National Opposition launched its victims’ rights policy, which centred on the establishment of new initiatives for victims funded by an offender levy, and a review of victims’ rights and services. As we draw to the end of our first term in Government, I am proud to see that the offender levy is up and running, and doing even better than we had hoped for. In its first year the offender levy collected $3.7 million, which is paying for 13 new entitlements and services for victims of serious offences, including travel assistance, increased support, discretionary and funeral grants, and counselling.

We have also completed the review of victims’ rights, drawing on submissions from interested groups and the wider public. The results are to be found in this bill, which amends the Victims’ Rights Act 2002, the Children, Young Persons, and Their Families Act 1989, the Sentencing Act 2002, and the Parole Act 2002. Notwithstanding the contribution of the previous Government in passing the Victims’ Rights Act in 2002, we have known for some time that victims continue to find it difficult to understand criminal justice processes and their role in these processes. This bill will increase the opportunities for victims to be more involved in the cases affecting them, where they choose to do so.

Victim impact statements are a vital opportunity for victims to voice their views on the offending, and to look offenders in the eyes and tell them firsthand the impact of their crime. However, victims have been frustrated by the way in which this expression has been restricted to date, and that serves only to underscore the perception that the courts are more concerned with form and formality than with humanity. This bill will provide greater scope for victims to talk about the effects of the offending on themselves and on persons in a close relationship with them, such as their children. Victims of serious offences will have the right to read out their statement to the court, or to nominate someone else to read the statement for them. Importantly, to improve the process for child victims and families of homicide victims the bill also allows drawings and photographs to be attached to the statements.

This bill also requires the police or the Ministry of Justice to tell victims who have made submissions to bail hearings the outcome of the hearings, and any conditions that relate to the victims or their immediate family. Currently, victims can receive notices about offenders in custody, and this bill builds on the notification system to include events such as when the offender is convicted of breaches of short-term release conditions, is convicted of breaches of home detention conditions, or completes his or her sentence. The bill also widens the eligibility for notices to explicitly include all victims of sexual offences. The bill will clearly allow victims to appoint a representative to receive a notice, and will improve their ability to notify a change of their address or that of their representative, or to withdraw from receiving notices.

It is vital that the rights and services that victims are entitled to are understood and enforced as Parliament intended. This bill makes amendments to improve the accountability of agencies that provide services to victims. The bill requires a victims code to be developed by the Ministry of Justice. The ministry will be required to consult other agencies, non-governmental organisations, and other members of the public to ensure that the code not only outlines victims’ rights and services and the duties of agencies but also, importantly, is accessible to victims. The bill also requires agencies to deal with victims’ complaints promptly and fairly when these rights or services are not met. Details about each agency’s complaints processes will be included in the code. The Victims of Crime Reform Bill also extends victims’ rights to the youth justice jurisdiction.

This bill is part of our commitment to put victims at the centre of the criminal justice system, and it is a privilege to fulfil yet another pre-election commitment in the justice portfolio. I commend this bill to the House.

Debate interrupted.