Moves to improve victims’ experience of the criminal justice process must always come in the context of ensuring a fair trial process for anyone charged with a crime, New Zealand Law Society Criminal Committee convenor Steve Bonnar QC says.
Commenting on the release by Chief Victims Adviser Kim McGregor of the results of a survey of victims of crime, Mr Bonnar says it is important to recognise that our criminal justice system is based around the premise that anyone tried for a crime is brought to court on behalf of the community.
“A criminal case is fundamentally between the community and the alleged offender; not the victim and the alleged offender. It is of course important that victims are heard and their views heeded, but we have to remember that the whole purpose of a criminal trial is to determine the guilt or otherwise of the defendant; it is not about vindicating the alleged victim.
“It is clear that the criminal justice process is not very well equipped to provide a resolution or healing process for victims of offences. Dr McGregor’s research and the views of victims make this clear. But we need to recognise that this is not the principal purpose of the criminal justice system and its trial process – which is to determine if a crime has been committed and, if so, to bring the offender to account.”
Mr Bonnar says it is important for there to be a focus on improving the processes in our criminal justice system for all participants.
“At the heart of the criminal justice system are the rights of all defendants to a fair trial. That has always been paramount and must remain so.
“The research and comments from several quarters make it clear there is a call for ways of improving support for victims of crimes. That is a laudable aim. But the answers may lie outside the actual criminal trial processes. There are long-established rights at the centre of the justice system and it is essential that these stand paramount.”