The issue of victims’ rights became more political from the 1990s. The rising crime rate aroused people’s fears of being victimised: recorded crime doubled between 1970 and 2000, with the offence rate peaking in 1992. While rates of recorded crime have dropped substantially since the mid 1990s, public concern about crime continues, particularly the less common crimes of murder and rape.
In 1999 a referendum proposing greater support for victims of crime and heavier sentences for violent offences received overwhelming public support, prompting further law changes. It originated when Norm Withers of Christchurch, whose elderly mother was attacked while minding his shop in 1997, started a law-and-order petition. This attracted considerably more than the 250,000 signatures needed to force a referendum.
Sensible Sentencing Trust
The time was ripe for the formation in 2001 of a pressure group, the Sensible Sentencing Trust. Focusing on stiffer sentences for crimes of extreme violence, the trust also advocated victims’ rights, and attracted support from the victims of many high-profile crimes. In the 2010s it continued to support victims of serious violent and/or sexual crime and homicide, as well as providing assistance to their families.
In 2001 the Injury Prevention, Rehabilitation and Compensation Act, a revision of the previous Accident Compensation Corporation (ACC) scheme, extended compensation for physical and, in limited cases, mental injury. It provided rehabilitation, compensation for loss of earnings during recovery, lump-sum compensation for permanent disability and entitlements for fatal injuries.
Legislative changes, 2002
The Victims’ Rights Act 2002 strengthened the provisions of the Victims of Offences Act 1987. It introduced guiding principles for the treatment of victims, including giving them information about court cases, as well as access to welfare, health, counselling, medical and legal services. It also required prosecutors to put victims’ views on bail, and information about the harm they had suffered, before the judge. Greater emphasis was placed on victim-impact statements.
Restorative justice is voluntary, and opinions about its effectiveness vary. When a convicted tagger failed to turn up at a restorative justice conference in 2008, his victim said, ‘Now I feel like he has got off … I wanted to tell him how it felt, to speak on behalf of other victims.’ But another woman who had a series of conferences with the driver of a car in which her son was killed said, ‘The pain never goes away but what you are left with as a result of restorative justice is a mental sense of peace.’1
The Sentencing Act 2002 and the Parole Act 2002 replaced the Criminal Justice Act 1985. The Sentencing Act made it obligatory for judges to impose the sentence of reparation for loss of property or money, damage to property, or emotional harm, unless it would cause the offender undue hardship or there were special circumstances. It supported making offenders more accountable to victims, and allowed judges to consider any offers of amends by offenders when sentencing. The Parole Act enabled victims to make submissions to the Parole Board.
The Victims’ Rights, Sentencing and Parole acts emphasised the principle of restorative justice, which had similarities to Māori dispute resolution processes. Restorative justice brought together all those involved in a crime in an attempt to put things right as far as possible. It had been applied in various situations, such as family group conferences for youth offenders, before 2002. Thereafter it was given greater prominence in the justice system.
Addressing victims’ rights and compensation
Further attempts were made in the 2010s to address issues relating to victims of crime. In August 2011 the Victims of Crime Reform Bill was introduced to amend Victims’ Rights Act 2002, the Children, Young Persons and Their Families Act 1989, the Parole Act 2002, and the Sentencing Act 2002. This followed a parliamentary inquiry in 2006–7 that highlighted on-going problems for victims of crime.
One of the outcomes of that review was the introduction in 2010 of a $50.00 levy on offenders who had been convicted of an offence. This levy is paid into a separate victims’ services bank account and used to fund additional payments to victims of crime.
The Victims of Crime Reform Bill was not passed until 2014 and took the form of detailed amendments to existing legislation that focused on defining the rights of victims, increasing their access to information and enhancing the accountability of government services to victims. Under the Sentencing Amendment Act 2014, victims’ access to restorative justice was increased.