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Victims of legally insane offenders deserve fairer treatment

The Rights for Victims of Insane Offenders Bill includes some essential steps forward but must go further to give fair treatment to victims, says Victim Support.

Victim Support today presented its submission on the rights of victims of legally insane offenders to the Justice & Electoral Select Committee. The committee will hear directly from affected victims later this week.

“At present, victims of an offender found not guilty on account of insanity are denied many of the most basic rights granted to other victims, despite serious harm or even death being caused.” says Victim Support spokesperson Dr Petrina Hargrave.

“Victims have no right to make a Victim Impact Statement, no say on the leave or release of the offender, and little ability even to be kept informed.”

The Rights for Victims of Insane Offenders Bill includes some important steps to give additional rights to victims of ‘special patients’ dealt with in the mental health system. Improvements include the right to submit on detention decisions for the patient and the right to be notified when a patient has unescorted community leave. The Bill also removes the words ’not guilty’ from insanity verdicts.

However, Victim Support say further steps are needed to give victims of legally insane offenders equality with the rights of other victims. Victim Support is calling on the committee to expand the Rights for Victims of Insane Offenders Bill to include:

  • The right for victims of special patients to present a Victim Impact Statement in court after the verdict. This right is available to victims of special patients in many parts of Australia.
  • Victim Impact Statements to be forwarded to the Mental Health Review Tribunal so victims’ concerns can be considered in relation to leave and release decisions. Victims should also be able to present their concerns about a patient’s leave or release to the Tribunal in writing and in person, as they would to the Parole Board.
  • The right for victims of patients detained in a secure health facility to request a non-association order prohibiting the offender contacting them upon release. Victims whose offender who is detained in prison can already make this request.

“These basic steps can all be achieved without compromising the safety or wellbeing of the offender, but will give victims the ability to have a say in decisions about their case which have a huge impact on their own safety and wellbeing,” says Dr Hargrave.

“Crime victims in New Zealand have so few rights and so little voice as it is, but those harmed by someone not criminally responsible on account of legal insanity have even fewer.

“A victims’ experience should not be defined by whether their offender is a patient or a prisoner.

“Our law unfairly discriminates against anyone who is harmed by someone not criminally responsible on account of insanity, every step of the way,” says Dr Hargrave.

Click here to view Victim Support’s full submission.