Matthew Backhouse

Matthew Backhouse is an APNZ news reporter based in Wellington.

Collins looking into UK Victims' Commissioner system

National MP Judith Collins. Photo / Ross Setford
National MP Judith Collins. Photo / Ross Setford

New Zealand could follow Britain's lead in appointing a commissioner to advocate for victims of crime, but Justice Minister Judith Collins says any such move would have to make a real difference for victims.

Ms Collins has asked Ministry of Justice officials to look at how the independent Victims' Commissioner system has worked in the UK, and how the role might work here.

Britain appointed its first Victims' Commissioner, Helen Newlove, in December last year - and Baroness Newlove has already suggested changes she believes would make that country's parole system more transparent and inclusive of victims.

The move has the support of New Zealand victims' groups including the Red Raincoat Trust, which supports families of homicide victims, and the Sensible Sentencing Trust.

Ms Collins said she was keen to learn about anything that would put victims at the heart of the justice system, and had asked officials for advice.

"I'd like them to find out how the system has worked in the UK [and] whether or not it's made any positive difference for victims, because the last thing I'd want is a talking head saying that they represent victims.

"What I want to know is, if we do have a Victims' Commissioner, that that's actually going to have a real impact for victims.

"I think it's very important to get a good understanding of how these systems are working and whether or not there are improvements if we were to bring something in like this. So I'm certainly not adverse to it - I'm positive about it."

Among the considerations was whether the funds would be better spent on helping victims directly.

There were also questions about whether the role should be part of the Human Rights Commission or the Victims Centre, which was set up two years ago to coordinate information and support services for victims.

Ms Collins said the move could fit in with the Victims of Crime Reform Bill, which would require the ministry to develop a Victims Code.

She said victims had a real place in the justice system.

"These people, through no fault of their own, find themselves in many circumstances feeling disempowered, losing confidence, worried, often they've lost income - in some cases they've lost their family members," she said.

"This could happen to anybody, and I think this is something we should be taking very seriously."

Gil Elliott, whose daughter Sophie was stabbed to death by Clayton Weatherston in 2008, said a Victims' Commissioner could have helped to make his journey easier following his daughter's death.

A lot of people looked after victims, including Victim Support, but it would be helpful if there was one place to go to get advice, Mr Elliott said.

"It's very difficult often for victims to know exactly where they're going, because you become a victim immediately and you've never been in that position before," he said.

"Apart from all the trauma and grief and God knows what, you don't know where to go to get advice, or who's going to look after you - it just adds to the trauma."

Red Raincoat Trust spokeswoman Debbie Marlow said an independent Victims' Commissioner could oversee the interaction between agencies and victims, ensuring their approach was more coordinated and consistent.

"It's a great idea and one that should be seriously considered here in New Zealand."

Ms Collins said she hoped to get advice back from officials within a matter of months.

- APNZ

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