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Restorative Justice Centre's submission to Ministry of Justice on victims' rights

Mar 30, 2010

The Restorative Justice Centre at AUT University in New Zealand has responded to a discussion draft titled "A Focus on Victims of Crime: A Review of Victims' Rights" on how the government might better address the needs of crime victims. Following are excerpts from RJC's response:

9. The central justice needs of victims are submitted to be accountability, vindication, empowerment, information, truth-telling and future safety. Only the first and last of these are addressed (to some degree) by the current legal process, and then only when the offender is convicted. Thus in crimes that go largely unreported, such as sexual offences, there can be no feeling of accountability in the absence of alternative processes, and victims remain unsafe.

10. The remaining four central justice needs are those which Dr Howard Zehr, known to and used by MoJ as a consultant in restorative justice, has said are “especially neglected”. They are next mentioned separately. However they overlap with needs identified by other writers.


11. Victims of crime usually feel that they have been wronged, and are likely to feel anger and hurt about that. They may feel vindicated in part by the conviction of the offender – ie by his being held accountable through the courts – but the sense of vindication is considerably lessened where the offender has not admitted the offence. True vindication comes by having the offender acknowledge his responsibility for the offence and for the harm done to the victim. The power of an apology, truly felt, is an aspect of vindication. Payment of restitution or is another aspect. Acknowledging that the victim was not responsible for the offence, and that s/he is right to feel wronged and hurt, also serves to vindicate a victim....


15. Zehr reports that victims often feel that “control has been taken away from them … - control over their properties, their bodies, their emotions, their dreams.” He notes that involvement in their own cases as they go through the justice processes can be an important way to return a sense of empowerment to them. However, those processes are still largely beyond their control. And even after an offender has been convicted and sentenced, many victims are left grappling with the emotional aftermath of the offence in their lives....


18. Focus rightly points to the need for information about the legal process. However, more urgent and valuable to victims is the sort of information that comes best from offenders. Because the court system is not inquisitorial, this information is not asked of offenders at court. Victims at restorative conferences will typically have several questions they want to ask of offenders. There is no compulsion to provide answers, but offenders usually do....


....23. Victim impact statements go some way to allowing victims to “tell their story”, but they have severe limitations. First, the story is told to the court, not to the offender who needs to hear it. Secondly, they are often prepared by a police officer and not even signed by the victim, so there is no guarantee they are what a victim would want to say. Thirdly, they are often not current at the time they are presented and may capture only the initial and naturally angry response of the victim. They need to cover the progress that the victim has made since the offence occurred.

24. The function of a victim impact statement, as the name suggests, is to inform a court of the impact of the offending on the victim. They do not give victims an opportunity to “have their say”. They are not designed as a therapeutic process, or to inform the court of the victim’s views on sentencing. These objectives are far better achieved in a restorative setting, where the truth can be told in a more personal way, and where views on an outcome can be more informed by information about both the offender and the offence, and can benefit from the encounter between victim and offender.

Read the whole submission. Thanks to Judge FWM McElrea for alerting us to this discussion.

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