9 Jun 2019

Poor treatment of crime victims, Māori exposed in justice report

1:55 pm on 9 June 2019

Racism is embedded in every area of the criminal justice system, according to a report released by the Safe and Effective Justice advisory group.

Whanganui MP Chester Borrows

Chester Borrows said some victims found the criminal justice system as traumatic as the crime they had suffered. Photo: RNZ

The report is also critical of how victims are treated within the system, saying people have a lack of faith in it, which suggests it is not fit for purpose.

The advisory group has been around the country in the past few months, tasked with finding out what is and is not working in the criminal justice system.

Chester Borrows is leading the advisory group, and said the report should not come as a surprise.

He said there were serious issues in New Zealand's criminal justice system, and the advisory group was now preparing a number of recommendations that would be submitted to the Jusrice Minister in August.

Mr Borrows said victims were particularly disappointed with the criminal justice system.

"For crimes against a person - especially sexual crimes and crimes of indecency - most complainants know it's very, very difficult.

"These sorts of crimes often happen when there's nobody else around, so it's often one word against another.

"The manner of getting clinical, independent forensic evidence certainly isn't pleasant, if not downright disgusting to people.

"Then there's the interrogation, and the accusations that are made through the interview processes, or through the court processes, and people who do go through the process of a prosecution say they'd never do that again.

"They feel just as damaged by the process as they did by the offending."

The report states victims have a lack of faith in the system, which undermines its integrity and suggests it is not fit for purpose.

Māori 'treated much worse'

The report also looks at the over-representation of Māori in the criminal justice system, describing it as a crisis.

It states "the effects of colonisation undermine, disenfranchise and conspire to trap Maori in the criminal justice system" and that "racism is embedded in every part of it".

Mr Borrows said that was an inarguable fact.

"Most people outside, with no knowledge of the criminal justice system and how it works in our country, would say there's one law for all and everyone gets treated the same.

"Well, Māori would say, 'Bring on the day when it's one law for all' because currently as it sits, Māori are treated much worse in every aspect of criminal justice than any other race, particularly Pākehā."

The report states Māori feel a strong sense of disengagement from the system, one they would not have agreed to when the Treaty of Waitangi was signed.

Māori are eager to be part of the reform process, and would like to use more Māori principles incorporated.

Bias against sexual complainants

Mr Borrows said the treatment of family and sexual violence complainants was terrible.

"We've still got a lot of ridiculous bias out there in relation to sexual complainants.

"I mean, we've got lawyers standing up in court making ridiculous accusations against complainants because when a woman got up in the morning, she put on a bra and knickers that matched.

"And [they] suggested to the jury, that she intended having sex with someone at the end of the day.

"You know, this is the 21st century in God's own country, and it's just rubbish to think that those sorts of statements are allowed to be made."

The Safe and Effective Justice advisory group will provide a further report to the Justice Minister in August, which will detail a number of recommendations for the justice system.

Māori ready to step up and help find solutions, Minister says

Andrew Little

Andrew Little Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

Justice Minister Andrew Little said over-representation of Māori in the justice system was a long-standing problem but the report showed that iwi and other organisations were ready to help.

"What I see from the report is a willingness at the iwi level, the hapū level and throughout the Māori community generally saying 'we're ready to step up and provide some of the solutions and be part of the solution' because it's not right that there's this way disproportionate level of Māori going through the system, being punished, but actually nothing really changing," he said.

Mr Little said many of the problems identified in the report were well known but the advisory group had needed to consult with people before coming up with recommendations for change.

"What I'm pleased about is there does seem to be a very high level, a deep level of engagement about what the problems are and what the solutions might look like," he said.

Mr Little said the government would not be able to fix everything at once but he expected spending in this year's Budget on mental health and addiction would help address some of the problems identified by the advisory group.

He said the advisory group would make its recommendations in August, but he expected the government would be asked to do more to stop people from reoffending.

"In terms of an approach for dealing with people who cause harm to others, who offend, there's a lot more that we can do I think. Not just to deal with the punishment, we have to do that and we're doing that, but it's the changing behaviours and getting people to stop offending and therefore reoffending and therefore creating more victims of crime, that's the challenge. We haven't mastered that yet we've got to do better."

Mr Little said the report was sobering and many of the stories shared by victims, families, and offenders were upsetting.

However, he said the report also offered hope. "The overwhelming sense is that we can make change for the better, and deliver safer and more effective justice for all New Zealanders."