Enhancements will empower victims of crime
Justice Minister Simon Power has announced a package of proposals to further enhance the rights and services provided to victims of crime.
The package is the result of consultation by the Ministry of Justice with government agencies, NGOs, legal groups, and the public.
It is made up of operational changes, which can begin immediately, and legislative changes which will be included in a new Victims of Crime Reform Bill which amends the Victims’ Rights Act 2002.
Significant reforms in the package include:
Reforming Victim Impact Statements (VIS)
The Victims’ Rights Act will be amended through legislation to:
Give victims greater scope to express their feelings in their own words.
Give victims of serious crime the automatic right to read their statement in court.
Provide victims of offending by children or young people the right to attend Youth Court and submit a VIS.
Guidelines will be created through regulations to provide more clarity about what can be in a VIS and the processes for completing, submitting and presenting them.
Improving the Victim Notification System (VNS)
Building on current requirements to notify victims of an offender’s release on bail or parole. Victims will now be told:
When prisoners of short-term sentences are convicted for breaching their release conditions.
When offenders on home detention breach their conditions.
All outcomes of bail hearings and the conditions that elate to them as the victim.
Victims will receive more information to:
Ensure they are aware of the VNS.
Ensure agencies inform victims about the importance of keeping their details up to date, which will be of particular use for when the Parole Board is considering parole.
A Victims Code
The Victims’ Rights Act 2002 will be amended through legislation to require the Ministry of Justice to develop and implement a Victims Code. The code will improve the responsiveness and accountability of justice sector agencies to victims. The Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Social Development, Crown Law, Police, and the Departments of Corrections and Labour will be required to comply with the code. It will outline victims’ rights, list the services provided to victims by government agencies and NGOs, and outline the complaints processes. The Ministry of Justice will report back in October with a draft code for Cabinet’s consideration.
A Victims Centre within the Ministry of Justice
The Victims Centre will be a one-stop shop for overseeing the coordination of state-funded services available to victims of crime. Organisations such as Victim Support will continue to provide frontline services. The centre will develop and implement the Victims Code and continue to improve the information resources available for victims. It will also provide oversight of victims’ services funded by the Offender Levy, monitor the victims’ information line (0800 VICTIM), and the number of complaints received to determine if a victims' complaints officer is warranted.
Improving victim-prosecutor communications
Ensuring prosecutors take reasonable steps to contact all victims of serious crime.
Ensuring prosecutors offer to meet family members of victims who have died, before a defended hearing or trial.
Ensuring victims of crime are informed about changes to charges laid against the defendant in a more timely and consistent manner. Victims should be informed about significant changes to charges before they are made.
New accountability requirements
The Victims’ Rights Act 2002 will be amended to require Police, Crown Law, Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Social Development, Department of Corrections, and the Department of Labour to have complaints processes. They will also have to include in their annual report to Parliament a summary of their services to victims and complaints received.
Encouraging wider use of restorative justice
This will require criminal justice agencies to provide victims with information about restorative justice, and require district courts to refer eligible cases for investigation for restorative justice where services are available.
Mr Power said the proposals would be a big step forward for victims of crime.
The Minister of Justice will introduce a Victims of Crime Reform Bill in mid 2011 implementing the package. Once the Bill is introduced its progress can be followed at www.parliament.govt.nz.
Further information is available at the Ministry of Justice website at: http://www.justice.govt.nz/policy/supporting-victims/enhancing-victims-r...
A full media release about these changes is available at: http://www.beehive.govt.nz/release/enhancements-will-empower-victims-crime