20 Apr 2011

More freedom of expression for serious crime victims

8:55 pm on 20 April 2011

Victims of serious crime are to be given the automatic right to read their victim impact statement in court and greater scope to express their feelings in their own words.

It is one of a number of changes to the services provided for victims of crime announced by Justice Minister Simon Power on Wednesday.

Mr Power says victims of offending by children or young people will be able to go to the Youth Court and read a statement.

A Victims Centre will be set up within the Justice Ministry to develop and implement a new Victims Code and improve resources available for victims.

Victims would also be told whenever prisoners who have served short-term sentences are convicted for breaching release conditions, or when offenders on home detention breach their conditions.

Mr Power says the changes are about putting victims at the centre of the justice system and changes around victim impact statements will go a long way towards that.

The minister says the Victims Centre and new Victims Code will help victims navigate the bureaucratic maze and make their interaction with the system less intimidating.

Legislation to enact the changes, the Victims of Crime Reform Bill, is to be introduced by the middle of this year.

Murder victim's father supports change

The father of murder victim Sophie Elliott says he is impressed by the Government's moves to boost the rights of victims of crime.

Ms Elliott was stabbed and mutilated repeatedly at her parents' Dunedin home by former partner Clayton Weatherston in 2008.

Gil Elliott says at present, victims can't say anything that might offend the offender and at least a third of his statement to the court was blacked out.

"You cannot say anything to the offender that might offend them. It doesn't matter that he's killed your daughter in horrible circumstances, but you can't offend him.

"That is just totally ridiculous in a democratic society."