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What Simon Power should say about victim impact statements

  • April 19th, 2011

The attention to the Chaston sentencing for murdering Vanessa Pickering may draw out Justice Minister Simon Power's promised reform of the law governing victim impact statements.

I posted in 2009 on his officials' weaselly discussion paper. Before that I'd outlined the simple reforms  that would turn this victim statement mechanism from an own goal for the justice system, into a useful step.  The victims' long march could be about to cross a river.

For convenience, here is what the Minister should announce. Measure what he says against this;

  1. Allow victims to express opinions on the same matters that the convicts’ family are permitted to comment on. That would allow them to tell the court what they think the penalty should be, and to ask for leniency, for severity, or for any particular kind of sentence.
  2. Tell the court what they believe to be the truth about any hurtful claims raised by the defence or other defence conduct during the trial.
  3. Just remove the restrictions on what victims can say, subject to defamation law (with the judge able to limit the usual privilege for court reporting so that it will not protect reporting of unfairly damaging victim claims or allegations about matters not dealt with in the court proceedings)
  4. Allow the court to limit the time for an oral statement (given the endless patience of the courts for dopey defence claims and cross-examination, it should be up to 30 minutes, say 3000 words);
  5. Allow the court to limit the number of victims who can present oral statements in any trial ( repetition and grandstanding would be limited if it is ordinarily confined to say 3 people);
  6. Allow the court a discretion to stop and to confine to writing a victim who degrades the proceedings with repetitive foul language or other uninformative abuse, going beyond what it is reasonable to expect of victims having regard to their need and right to denounce the convict and the release of emotion after the long passivity of the trial.

Among other reforms that should ensure that victims are free:

  • To argue that the sentence be increased to reflect any lack of remorse or indifference to compounding the hurt shown in the defence conduct of the case. This should have been the change after the Weatherston case, instead of ending the defence of provocation;
  • To ask the court to order specific reparation or compensation;
  • To draw attention to any disgraceful conduct and attitude during the trial of the convict’s family and supporters, when the court considers any submissions from them on sentence.


  • Jim Maclean
  • April 25th, 2011
  • 5:26 pm

Once more Stephen has put my very thoughts into words more eloquently than I could myself. Try as I might I cannot think of any possible justification for debate about what seems to me to be simple fairness and common sense. I have no clue why the Labour party fails completely to show any interest in these issues and am unlikely to vote for them again until they do. Bravo Stephen, there is much in politics I do not agree with you on, but in "law and order" issues, you speak for me and for many others, and your concern for the rights of victims shines through all you say.

  • Brian Robinson
  • May 21st, 2011
  • 6:49 pm

Those people unfortunate enough to be convicted of crimes that they are innocent of, already suffer the potential extra penalty of having to serve longer time in prison because of their perceived "lack of remorse".  
Arthur Thomas.  Peter Ellis.  David Dougherty.  Aaron Farmer.  Lucy Akatere. Tania Vini. McCushla Fuataha.  Alwyn Caie.  Phillip Johnston. Jaden Knight.
You are suggesting that their sentence also be lengthened prior to imprisonment for the same lack of remorse.
I wish that all those promoting policies such as the one you are promoting, that makes things worse for the wrongfully convicted, would work with just as much zeal to implement the recommendations of Justice Thorp to consider a Criminal Cases Review Commission.

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