New Zealand Law Society - Victim statement given to defendant's partner

Victim statement given to defendant's partner

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Names used in this article are fictitious

A lawyer who provided a victim’s statement to a defendant’s partner has been censured by a lawyers standards committee.

The lawyer, Gulpidge, acted for a person defending charges of aggravated assault. After a bail application was denied, Gulpidge appealed the decision to the High Court.

One of the defendant’s victims made a comment about his release on bail to a victim adviser. Her statement noted her concern of the risk and safety for herself and her children if the offender was granted bail. The District Court sent Gulpidge a copy of her statement.

The victim, Ms Kedgick, complained that her statement was then forwarded to her partner by the defendant’s partner, and that she had been left embarrassed, hurt, angry and disgusted that her privacy could be breached so badly.

Ms Kedgick said she did not know how the defendant’s partner obtained a copy of the statement, as it clearly stated on the document that: “This report remains the property of the District Court. If released to counsel, it is to be returned to the victim adviser at the completion of the case. A copy must not be given to the defendant.”

In his response to the complaint, Gulpidge said that Ms Kedgick’s statement raised significant issues in opposition to the defendant’s appeal against refusal to grant bail, and that the issues would require explanation in order to assist the appellate court. The defendant’s partner was the most suitable person to address the concerns.

Under s 23 of the Victims Rights Act 2002, an offender is not to be given a copy of a victim impact statement to keep. However, Gulpidge said he understood that section did not apply when Ms Kedgick was supplying views about bail under s 30 of the Act.

Gulpidge said that he had spoken to the defendant’s partner and she informed him that she did not provide a copy of the statement to the defendant. Gulpidge also said he did not provide the defendant with a copy of Ms Kedgick’s statement.

In response to Gulpidge’s statement, Ms Kedgick submitted that Gulpidge did not have the right to “submit” a copy of her statement to the defendant’s partner.

She added that: “Not only did she receive that from you, she used it in a way that was not relevant to the case as you may have intended but instead as a way to cause yet more grief to our family. I think that was incredibly poor judgement. A better idea would have been to possibly relay my views to [the defendant’s partner], not give her a copy.”

The committee found that Gulpidge should not have provided a copy of Ms Kedgick’s statement to anyone, let alone the defendant’s partner.

Gulpidge “should have asked for his client’s instructions after orally summarising the main concerns from the complainant’s report,” the committee said.

“The committee acknowledged that this was a very difficult area, where a lawyer was charged with looking after a client’s interests and thereby disclosing all information relevant to the case, but at the same time having to take into account the victim’s rights.”

Rather than just show it to a third party, Gulpidge had “kept” the document and then transmitted it to a third party. That was, “to all intents and purposes, in direct breach of the Act, but for the fact that this was a document prepared for a bail hearing and was thus caught by s 30 of the Act.

“The committee held that it should have been obvious to [Gulpidge] that to provide such a statement to the defendant’s partner could potentially pose a very great risk to the complainant.”

In the circumstances, the duty Gulpidge owed to the Court not to provide the statement to the defendant or other associated persons “is more acute,” the committee said.

As well as the censure, the committee ordered Gulpidge to pay $950 costs.

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