Victim Conference held 4-5 March 2019
Last year Minister of Justice Andrew Little launched Hāpaitia te Oranga Tangata. The Safe and Effective Justice advisory group was formed to work alongside Justice Sector agencies and to support the reforms. Unfortunately, only two of the people in the group are Victim Advocates; the rest are academics.
In August of 2018 the Criminal Justice Summit was held at Te Rauparaha Arena in Porirua. It was a get together of people involved in our criminal justice system, with the idea to develop a way forward for the reforms. We were promised a fairer, safer justice system for everyone within the system, including victims.
The Criminal Justice Summit was a huge disappointment. The event was attended by approximately 1000 people and cost circa $1.5 million of tax-payers money! The summit was focused on how unfortunate offenders are, how we should be more accepting of their circumstances, and that the system should apologise for how they have been treated because ‘offenders are victims too’. We believe if a victim commits a crime, they have crossed the line and become an offender; they are no longer victims!
We could not accept that the reform of the Justice System would not include REAL Victims and their needs for change. So, we stood strong and one of our Sensible Sentencing Group Trust (SSGT) Victim Advocates Jayne Walker stood up and told her story of how her baby girl was murdered and how she also nearly lost her life in the attack. This was the turning point, bringing the Summit back to the plight of REAL victims and from that, it was announced there would be a Victim Conference – they heard us!
The Victim Conference was held on the 4th and 5th of March this year and after attending that we have a little more hope that there will be some positive steps made for REAL victims moving forward.
We do feel a lot of good suggestions for change were made, and there are changes that can be made quickly. We suggested that the Government make a list, then divide into two. One that requires legislative change, that could be ‘parked’ and one that can be instigated as soon as possible - prioritise that list and start acting. They just need the courage to actually make the changes!
A great suggestion was the need for a Victims ‘navigator’ or a Minister of Victims, which is something SST and SSGT have long advocated, and in fact it is what our Victim Advocates already do – working with the victim or the family of the victim from the moment of the offending, right through the system to parole and beyond; providing both education and practical support during their time of trauma. We know this ensures the victims are not left feeling helpless, alone and ignored when they end up in this circumstance through no fault of their own. We believe it aids in minimising the trauma to victims which in turn will assist in their long-term health and well-being.
We bought up the need for equitable investment in victims, as there is for offenders - there is so much available for offenders but not victims. There also needs to be more flexibility round what services are offered to victims in regard to health and wellbeing requirements after the trauma of the incident, and to ensure they don’t go on to become sick. If their needs were met initially it would cost the government far less long term and be far more compassionate. This also includes Victim Support and their rigidity in what services they will cover with counselling and other services. i.e. only registered counsellors rather than specialised psychologists, hydro therapy and so on. Needs differ and therefore flexibility is required round different treatments.
Most of the speakers were academics, the only victim advocacy group to speak was Victim Support. There was no opportunity for groups such as our Victim Advocates who support the victims of serious violent crime, sexual violence and families of homicide victims to speak.
Judges, lawyers, academics, members of the Parole Board, Corrections staff and Police attended, and it was positive that they did, but there was no representative from Mental Health which was a huge disappointment given the number of offenders with mental health, drug and alcohol issues in prison.
Do we think there will be positive outcomes for victims from these meetings, going forward? We sincerely hope so as it will directly impact on victims and we look forward to hopefully seeing a positive change for REAL Victims.
Leigh Woodman - National Victims Advisor