The majority of serious crime victims lack faith in the justice system and feel justice was not served in their case, according to new research released by Victim Support.
Victim Support released preliminary findings from the study at the two-day Hāpaitia te Oranga Tangata Safe and Effective Justice: Strengthening the Criminal Justice System for Victims summit in Wellington today.
Amongst victims interviewed, 59% told researchers they had no faith in the justice system and 68% felt justice had not been served in their case.
This was despite 73% of cases in the study resulting in a guilty verdict and 52% resulting in imprisonment of the offender.
“There’s a perception that when victims are let down by the justice system, it’s often because their offender is not given a harsh sentence,” said Victim Support Researcher Dr Petrina Hargrave.
“Our research shows that justice is much more complex than whether the offender is found guilty or receives a prison sentence.
“We know harsher penalties don’t prevent victimisation. What we need to get tough on is injustice, and let victims tell us what that means to them,” said Dr Hargrave.
“When we asked victims what justice meant to them, accountability was a common response, along with being heard and fairness.”
Dr Hargrave and her team conducted in-depth interviews with New Zealanders affected by serious crimes including homicide, sexual violence, and family violence, who had engaged with the justice system in the last 12 years.
Three key barriers to justice were identified: fear, exclusion and unfairness.
“For many, seeking justice was about keeping themselves and others safe, but there was a fear that engaging in the justice system would actually pose a risk to their safety, both physically and emotionally,” said Dr Hargrave.
“The justice system is a high-risk environment for victims and being part of it takes courage.”
Victims commonly reported that they felt they had no genuine voice in the justice system.
“One victim told us, ‘it’s like you have no voice and they have no ears’,” said Dr Hargrave.
“Victims don’t feel heard because they currently have no formal place in the justice system.The two parties in the adversarial system are the offender and the state.
“The state acts for the victim, while the individual victim’s role is reduced to that of a witness for the state.
“However, the justice system has the potential to shift from a system that compounds the harm victims have already suffered to one that is part of their healing process.
“We need to do more than let victims into the justice system. We need to put their needs at the centre of it.”
Addressing victims’ justice needs would likely improve public safety by increasing the reporting of crime and the willingness to engage in the justice system, said Dr Hargrave.
Victim Support’s qualitative research complements separate, quantitative research conducted by the government’s Chief Victims’ Advisor, also released today.
Victim Support would like to acknowledge the Police Managers’ Guild Trust for funding this research.
Victim Support is an independent charitable organisation which supports victims of crime and trauma throughout New Zealand. In 2018 it helped more than 36,000 victims in the immediate aftermath of crime and trauma, through the court process, and beyond.