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Victim Impact Statements – Minister Power misled by officials?

  • December 12th, 2009

 Victims will  get the right to tell convicted criminals what they think of them. They will be able to express their views on sentencing. They will get at least the same rights as the convict’s families. We’ll get there some time next year, 8 years after my amendments for those purposes to the Victims Rights Act 2002 failed to get the support of other parties.

But we’ll get there only through the courage, and dignity of people like Gordene Tuhoro, featured on Close Up tonight. She and the other determined victims will prevail. Because many more like her are prepared to risk arrest in reclaiming the victim’s right to assert power over the convict, to oblige the  convict to listen to their disdain, instead of gratifying the convict with a fresh recital the suffering inflicted. This campaign by the Sensible Sentencing Trust is only starting. Garth McVicar does not have to seek out volunteers. They seek him out for guidance. 

There are some serious hurdles. Tonight’s TV illustrated the issues superbly. The Justice Minister dealt clearly and well with Gordene’s challenge and Mike Hosking’s questions. Here is one vital exchange after Gordene explained what she’d been told to omit:

Hosking – Simon, why dont you just have a simple rule…that says you can say whatever you like as long as its got nothing to do with sentencing or libelling the person?

Minister – Well I think  that’s the territory we’re in, trying to redefine the boundaries Mike. One of the things I guess that I’m concerned about Mike is that at the moment you have to make a request to the Court just to read the statement. What we’re proposing in the document thats out there at the moment is that victims have a right to make an impact statement.

Hosking – This seems too complicated. Why don’t you as Minister, you as government, "Say whatever you want as long as its not illegal, say whatever you want, get stuck into the mongrels." Let them have their say, what’s the problem?

Minister – Well that’s precisely,  the freedom of expression that you’ve just outlined Mike, is precisely  what’s proposed in [the consultation] document".

Trouble is the consultation document proposes nothing of the sort. Note how carefully its scope is limited (pages 33 to 39 of the pdf):

"Freedom about what victims may say in a VIS

"Some victims believe they should have more freedom about what they may say in a VIS.  Having more freedom in what they say in a VIS would enable victims to feel more involved in the justice system, and ensure that they have had the opportunity to fully voice their views about the offending.

"The purpose of the VIS is to inform the Judge about the effect of the offence on the victim.  The Judge uses this information along with the submissions of counsel and the pre-sentence report provided by the Department of Corrections to decide on an offender’s sentence.  Providing information unrelated to the purpose of the VIS risks undermining its object and may slow down the Judge’s decision-making. 

"We therefore propose that guidelines be developed for all the agencies or persons who assist victims in preparing a VIS.  These guidelines will ensure that victims may more freely express themselves in a manner that is consistent with the purpose of the VIS.

 "Preliminary proposal 13 –

"We seek your views on the proposal to develop guidelines that will ensure victims may more freely express themselves in a VIS, in a manner that is consistent with the purpose of the VIS."  

The words underlined make it very clear. The paper shows no intention whatsoever to allow victims to do more than recite their misery. It shows the opposite – an intention to change nothing at all in this area.

I suspect Minister Power has been misled. The justice anointed are cunning. It takes careful reading to catch them. The Minister has to cover the whole of the Justice and Commerce portfolios. He’s probably stretched too thin to read such reports looking for the weasel words. I’m told by Parliamentary staff there is now no-one in Parliament who reads the stuff the Justice officials produce closely enough the way I did to catch them out in the fine print.

 In the unlikely event that  the Justice Minister does not insist on his policy as described to Mike Hosking, despite his current advisers, the Courts will pay the price. They’ll have to endure many more confrontations with victims.  Decent judges have to apply the law the way it is written. They’ll be forced to add to the pain and anger of determined victims and leave the Courts facing growing outrage, until the law is made simple and clear, until it respects victims at least as much as it panders to criminals and their families.

 For the kinds of issues on which the Minister will need submissions see my previous post on this topic.



  • Jim Maclean
  • December 12th, 2009
  • 7:48 pm

Weasel words once again, both from the legal fraternity and (to a lesser extent) from the Minister himself when the issue cries out for simple plain speaking. The public not only want, but we demand a say in the public forum which calls the person who has wronged us to account. We will vote for those politicians who support this right and vote against those who deny us. It will take time, as each election is a balancing act for what we desire and what we can reasonably achieve, but in time it will be so I am sure.
In years past, I remember silently fuming as John McEnroe carried on like a spoiled child on the tennis court wondering when someone would have the guts to simply pull him up on it and do what any sensible and reasonable person would. Everyone involved was too intimidated by his fame or too hidebound by the rules as they percieved them until a corageous Australian referee disqualified him from his match, rather than simply wilting before his tirade.
It was only this disqualification which finally bought McEnroe to his senses and put a brake on his shennanigans. Offenders in the court hear nothing of what the sentencing Judge says, and hear every word from their own defence lawyer. There must be room in the courts for the ordinary man (or woman) in the street to have their say. The question is, will this Minister have the balls to face down the sophistry of those who would deny the victims their right to it?

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