Centre for victims of crime sought

By Brendan Manning - APNZ


Bay of Plenty needs a specialised support service for "superfluous" victims struggling with the court process, the Sensible Sentencing Trust says.


"Victims keep coming to us - and they're just not getting the support from the courts - saying, 'What the hell can we do and what happens next'," local trust spokesman Ken Evans said.


Over the past year, 17,734 victims of crime nationwide have called a Justice Ministry victims information line nationwide for support and advice - 464 from the Bay of Plenty.


A further 20,260 people have accessed support by visiting the information website, www.victimsinfo.govt.nz.


Mr Evans said the trust dealt with about six cases a week in which Bay of Plenty crime victims needed advice to navigate the court process.


He wanted to see a victim support network set up in local regions. "I know [the trust] primarily appear to be looking at getting the sentencing with the courts sorted out, but the victim support side has become a major part of our operation."


Mr Evans said the Bay of Plenty trust branch planned to open a local victim support centre early next year.


"From day one we could see that victims were just being ignored by the courts. [But] the courts now have new laws and requirements [for] victims which were never there before - victims were treated as superfluous to the system - it's changed hugely."


A national victims' centre was established last year within the Justice Ministry to promote victims' rights and entitlements.


Specialist advisers talk to victims about their case, advise them of their rights, and help them participate in the court system.


Gilbert Elliott, father of murdered Dunedin woman Sophie Elliott, was a member of a group which submitted to the Victims of Crime Reform Bill on ways to improve the court process for victims and their families.


Mr Elliott said the trial and court process for his daughter's murderer, Clayton Weatherston, was "all very bewildering".


"Crimes are against society and against the state, rather than against the victim per say - I've never agreed with that."


As well as sitting through the harrowing murder trial, Mr Elliott had to arrange his daughter's funeral, death notice, and attend pre-trial hearings.


"It was thought that victims probably needed some support in the form of either a lawyer or an advocate to help them through this process and a detailed code, or booklet, as well.


"It's only really recently that victims have been taken much notice of. In the past it's definitely only been about the offender with the defence trying to get a reduced sentence - or no sentence - and the prosecution trying to get a conviction.


"The victim is left on the sideline and is not represented in any way."


Victim Support was helpful, but as it was predominantly run by volunteers, "they don't understand a lot of what the court process is about", Mr Elliott said.


The victims' centre was originally supposed to run for 18 months to establish a victims' code.


However, this week Justice Minister Judith Collins announced the project would be extended until June 2014.


"Navigating the justice system hasn't always been as straightforward and supportive as it could be for victims of crime," Ms Collins said.


"We were concerned to hear from victims that information they received was often unclear and duplicated across agencies and they were not getting the support they needed."


BY THE NUMBERS


- 464 Bay of Plenty crime victims called the victims' information line in the past year


- 10,264 people called the line from a cellphone


- 17,734 total callers


- 0800 650 654  _  The victims' information freephone line


 

- BAY OF PLENTY TIMES

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