Strengthening the Criminal Justice System for Victims workshop

Speech by Dr McGregor on 4 March 2019.

Tēnā koutou
ko tatū mai nei
i runga i te kaupapa o te rā.

He mihi tēnei
ki te mana whenua
ā, Te Atiawa, ā Taranaki whānui.
Nā rātou hei manaaki ki a tātou
ko huihui mai nei.

Ka haere tonu āku mihi ki a koutou
kor tie may nei, āku rangatira.

Ki ngā Minita, ki a tātou hoki
kay te mihi, kei te mihi, kei te mihi.
Greetings to you all
who have gathered here
today for this hui/discussion.

I extend my acknowledgment
to the mana whenua
Te Atiawa, and the wider Taranaki iwi.
We have gathered here under
their protection.

I again extend my acknowledgments to you
esteemed participants.

To the Ministers, indeed to us all
I greet you, I acknowledge you, I greet you.

In addition to my mihi to mana whenua, the Minister, the Under-Secretary and all esteemed participants here today I would like to extend an extra special acknowledgment to the victim/survivors here today, and, not only in this room, but across the country.

This workshop is for you.

Victims of crime suffer not only harm, loss, and trauma, from crimes against them, many also suffer from a lack of justice and/or revictimisation within our inherited Westminster, offender-centric, adversarial criminal justice system.

While not all victims are the same, and they range in age, ethnicity, gender and are differently abled, from many victims’ perspectives it seems, there is very little about our current criminal justice system that is ‘just’ or ‘fair’.

Victims hear the words that they ‘should’ be at the heart of the criminal justice system, - but many experience the opposite.

Almost every day I hear complaints about victims not feeling supported, believed, or listened to.

Instead many feel forgotten, and sidelined.

Victims often say they feel the system is unfairly stacked in favour of the offender.

This is despite decades of a “victims’ movement”, that focused on increasing support for victims of crime, from the 1960s and 1970s, through NGOs, including: Women’s Refuge, Rape Crisis, the Maori Women’s Welfare League, Victim Support and individual victim advocates; and, despite in the 1990s, having a Victims Taskforce that met for 5 years; and, despite the Victims Rights Act of 2002; and the simplified version of the Act, the Victims Code launched in 2015.

Despite all advocacy and victim focused legislation, still many victims feel the system fails them.

When I first took up the inaugural role of Chief Victims Advisor to Government in Nov 2015, my first questions to ministry officials were:

  • How many victims are there in the criminal justice system?
  • How many have sufficient support?
  • How many need more support?

Officials were, and are, still, unable to give me answers to these questions.

  • We do not know how many victims are in the CJS at any one time.
  • We don’t know how many months or years each victim waits for their case to go to trial.
  • We don’t know how many trials have been stood down multiple times.

This is because our CJS is offender-centric, and there is not an overall case management system that tracks a victim’s pathway as they move end to end, throughout the system.

There is no One Unit monitoring if Victims’ Rights are being upheld.

There is no One Unit receiving complaints from victims so that there can be a ‘continuous system of positive improvement’.

Victims do acknowledge that there must be a fair trial for the offender, and they accept that their evidence must be tested.

What they ask for, however, is that they are treated as equals in the system.

Victims particularly complain the system is unfair however, when they find out that the offender has their own lawyer to represent, protect and debrief them,- but ‘they’ the victim does not.

Victims complain of a lack of fairness when they find out that the offender has the right to silence, and it is ‘they’ the victim who is put on the stand and is, in their words, “ripped to shreds” by a well-practiced, professional defence lawyer whose job is to destroy the credibility of the witness.

Victims soon realise that they are relegated to merely a witness, to the crime, they experienced.

So, we know we have a problem when:

  • families of homicide victims tell us, that they were made to feel as though ‘they’ were the offender, during the court case.
  • And when some victims of workplace robbery and burglary tell us, they need to deal with over 20 different agencies, as they try to recover ‘long term’ from the violence against them.
  • And when, only about 20% of victims of family violence report to the Police.
  • And, when a survivor of family violence, says, “the worst time of my life was when I was with my partner, because he could have killed me, but the Court case was a close second”.
  • And when, only 1 in 100 cases of SV is likely to result in a conviction - in part because of the incredibly low reporting rate.
  • And, when Ministers of the Crown, and very senior Police say that if ‘they’, or any of their loved ones was raped, there is no way they would report the crime to the Police,
  • And when a rape complainant, after being called a ‘liar’, over and over, by the defence says: “The system makes you want to kill yourself”.

All of this brings us to why we are here today.

This ‘Strengthening the Criminal Justice System for Victims’ workshop provides an important opportunity for victims in the criminal justice system.

  • And, this maybe the first time ever, such a large workshop bringing victims, victim advocates, and representatives from ‘most parts’ of the justice system - Police, Court staff, Prosecutors, Judiciary, Corrections, Parole, and, government officials, has met to work together, over two days, to focus on how to improve the criminal justice system for victims.
  • So, I would like to thank everyone who has helped me, and my team make this workshop possible - beginning with Minister Little.
  • Minister, without your request to hear more about, how to improve the criminal justice system for victims, we would not be here today.
  • I’d also like to acknowledge you, Under Secretary Logie, and the value of your support and encouragement throughout the development and design of this workshop.
  • As well, I would like to give a huge thank you to the impressive bi-cultural steering group of victim focused advocates and academics, that I invited to help guide me and my team over the last 6 months. Thank you to all of you.
  • Thanks also to my incredibly hardworking team in the Chief Victim Advisor’s office. There are only 2 ½ of us in our office (I’m the half). Thank you, Sarah and Annaliese and also the other MoJ officials who have helped us in recent weeks.
  • My very final thank you goes to all of you who are participating in this workshop. We are extremely lucky to have such an amazing group of experts respond to our Karanga.
  • You are all here because you are all leaders and champions in your own fields. We are pleased to have several Judges here today. They are participating in an Observer role. Every other participant is here to contribute your wisdom and expertise to help identify gaps and solutions to improving the current system from a victim’s perspective.
  • Before I lay out what we are going to work on over the next two days it is important that we acknowledge that any complaints or gaps we discuss, are focused on ‘The System’! We are NOT focusing on ‘individuals’ working in that system.
  • In the time I have been in this role, I have consistently met dedicated Police, Court staff, Judiciary, Prosecutors, Victim Advocates and others, all working their hardest to make sure victims are supported in the best they can be, despite operating within a siloed, adversarial system.

Now to the amazing opportunity before us

In terms of context, this workshop is just one part of several strands, weaving the Hapaitia te Oranga Tangata, the Safe and Effective Justice programme together that includes:

  • the Justice Summit that was held in August last year,
  • this victims issues focused workshop today,
  • the Hui Maori that will be held in April,
  • and, the Minister’s, Te Uepeu, Advisory Group who are travelling the country listening to the public

All strands will provide the Minister with Recommendations from their various perspectives.

So,this workshop is designed to bring many parts of the justice system together with victims and victim advocates and:

On DAY ONE we will be focused on how we can improve the current criminal justice system for victims. I believe that we CAN improve our responses to victims within our current adversarial system. We can and we must do better for victims if we are to improve the trust and confidence in our justice system.

DAY TWO will be focused on alternative justice processes including restorative justice and other therapeutic approaches. We aim to develop a shared vision with principles and values we would like to see in an Aotearoa/New Zealand criminal justice system in order to move to a safer and more effective system for victims.

To close: Some of my colleagues have stated that the Minister’s current reform programme is a ‘once in a generation opportunity’ to improve the current system.

  • Re-confirming this view, I recently asked one of our most prominent Maori elders for his views of the current reform programme - given that he had seen at least 2 other significant reform programmes in his life time. I was impressed to hear that ‘this time’ he is ‘hopeful’. And so am I.

So thank you everyone in advance for the expertise and knowledge you will share over the next 2 days that will inform a set of Recommendations for the Minister’s consideration in the Hapaitia Te Oranga Tangata Safe and Effective Justice Reform programme.

Thank you.