In her September 2019 report Te Tangi o te Manawanui - Recommendations for Reform, the Chief Victims Advisor provided the following four recommendations to the Government for changes to strengthen the criminal justice system for victims.
Recommendation 1: Improve procedural justice for victims
There are many aspects of our criminal justice system that need fundamental longer-term change if the needs of victims are to be addressed. However, there is also much that can be done ‘now’ to improve the experience of victims in our current system. When improving the justice system, it is essential that there is a focus on making sure that victims feel and are kept safe from further harm.
While most victim/survivors are aware that they do not have control over the outcome of any criminal justice case they are involved in, how victims are treated within the criminal justice system can make a profound difference to how a victim/survivor feels about the justice process. Victim/survivors who are treated with respect, are listened to, and are provided with the information and support they need to be able to participate in the criminal justice process will have a much better overall outcome than victims who are not well supported or listened to.
To make sure victims procedural justice rights are attended to, at a minimum, all government agencies should review their practices to ensure they comply with the provisions of the Victims’ Rights Act 2002.
Recommendation 2: Develop an integrated system focused on restoring victims’ wellbeing and protecting victims from re-victimisation
Many victims of crime are at an increased risk of being re-victimised. They are also often burdened with trying to find the help they need by themselves and have to navigate complex and siloed systems.
A criminal justice system focussed primarily on people who offend will inevitably fail to adequately address the needs of victims.
So that victims do not have to carry the burden of finding the help they need, it is recommended that a system that co-ordinates social services for victims be developed independent of the offender-focussed criminal justice system.
Government should develop a system that coordinates a range of proactive social services able to respond to the wide-ranging needs of victims of crime and review the myriad of complex pathways victims must travel to access the support they need to stay safe, heal, recover and restore.
Recommendation 3: Develop a variety of alternative justice processes by partnering with Māori and Tauiwi restorative and therapeutic justice specialists
Some victims will never want to report to an adversarial justice system that has prison as the central option. Some victims may be more interested in a justice process where the person who harmed them takes part in treatment to stop their harmful behaviour.
A criminal justice system designed around the punishment of offenders will never be capable of fully addressing the needs of victims. Better treatment of victims within this system, and additional services offered alongside it will certainly help. However, it is necessary to go further and to critically examine and propose reform of some of the more fundamental underpinnings and core processes of the system we have in place.
Māori have long said that services and systems that are designed by Māori work best for Māori. To achieve better services for Māori means being committed to our obligations under Te Tiriti o Waitangi. The justice system needs to recognise and incorporate Te Ao Māori models of healing and tikanga principles. The system must affirm tino rangatiratanga, and the Crown must deliberately partner with iwi, hapū, whānau and Māori communities to design and deliver kaupapa Māori responses to crime that have a clear focus on whānau and whakapapa.
Government should also invest in promising restorative and alternative pathways, to better understand and improve these for victims, and use them to establish the foundation for long term and transformational change.
Recommendation 4: Establish an independent mechanism to enforce victims’ rights
Meaningful transformation for victims is unlikely without a specialist victim-focused mechanism to help drive the necessary changes. We need a Te Tiriti-based independent body or mechanism in Aotearoa that can be a watchdog for victims’ rights. Aotearoa New Zealand doesn’t have what most other similar Western countries have - that is an independent victim-focused Commission, Commissioner, or even a dedicated Victims of Crime Ombudsman. Any of these roles or mechanisms could proactively measure and monitor victims’ rights, receive victims’ complaints and help focus on improving systems and processes for victims.
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