The voices of victims of legally insane defendants have finally been heard, says Victim Support.
Last night Parliament passed the Rights for Victims of Insane Offenders Bill, giving victims of the legally insane, or “special patients”, rights comparable to victims of other criminal offenders.
“This is a huge step forward for these victims who have been denied basic rights because the offender was not guilty in the eyes of the law,” says Victim Support spokesperson Dr Petrina Hargrave.
The new law changes the wording of the insanity verdict from “not guilty on account of insanity” to “act proven but not criminally responsible on account of insanity”.
“For victims of these special patients, hearing the words ‘not guilty’ is misleading, revictimising, and deeply offensive,” says Dr Hargrave.
“The new wording acknowledges that they are in fact victims and opens up rights that were previously blocked off to them.”
These rights include being informed of what’s happening to the special patient, having a say on the patient’s leave and release, and making a victim impact statement.
“Victims have had a lot of distrust in the mental health system and have been fearful because their safety concerns about the patient’s leave and release haven’t been heard,” says Dr Hargrave.
Victim Support’s submission on the bill earlier this year argued for additional rights for victims not originally included, such as the right to present a victim impact statement in court after the verdict. This right is available to other victims in New Zealand, and to victims of special patients in many parts of Australia.
“We made a strong case for victims being able to make an impact statement because it’s the only formal chance a victim has to be heard in court and it can be so therapeutic to have a voice.
“Knowing the system cares enough to hear the impact the event has had on the victim and to listen to their concerns is an important part of recovery for all victims,” says Dr Hargrave.
“While the law can never take away the pain and harm caused to victims, it can take steps to improve their justice experience.”
Dr Petrina Hargrave
M: 021 0287 4937