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Victims’ voices must not be lost in insanity verdict debate

Victims’ voices must continue to be heard, despite the stalling of a bill designed to improve the rights of crime victims, says Victim Support.

Victims’ voices must not be lost in insanity verdict debate

Victims’ voices must continue to be heard, despite the stalling of a bill designed to improve the rights of crime victims, says Victim Support.

Parliament yesterday voted to send the Rights for Victims of Insane Offenders Bill back to the Justice Committee after concerns raised by Chief Justice Helen Winkelmann about the proposed wording of the insanity verdict.

The Select Committee had already reported back in favour of the bill, which proposed changing the wording of the verdict from “not guilty on account of insanity” to “proven but insane”.

“While this is a huge disappointment for victims who courageously submitted on this bill, we must focus on ensuring victims’ voices and needs remain central to this discussion,” said Victim Support spokesperson Dr Petrina Hargrave.

“We urge the Justice Committee to ensure that the fundamental changes this bill proposed are still achieved and the progress for victims is not lost.”

Dr Hargrave said victims of insane defendants had applauded the bill because it aimed to give them rights comparable to victims whose offender was found guilty.

“Victims have so few rights in the justice system as it is but victims whose defendant is found legally insane have even fewer rights and face more unfairness.

“Hearing the words ‘not guilty on account of insanity’ is misleading, revictimising, and deeply offensive to victims,” said Dr Hargrave.

She said the not guilty verdict blocked off the rights victims would normally have to give a victim impact statement, be kept informed of what’s happening to the offender, and to have a say on the offender’s release.

The bill proposed giving victims input into detention decisions and notifying victims about leave and release decisions. After hearing submissions, the Justice Committee also recommended amending the bill to give victims the right to make a victim impact statement, as occurs in many parts of Australia.

“New Zealand lags behind many other jurisdictions overseas in terms of enabling victims’ concerns to be heard in the mental health system,” says Dr Hargrave.

She noted that New South Wales and Canada had removed the words “not guilty” from the insanity verdict, replacing them with “not criminally responsible”.

“This bill was set to make fundamental changes to the lives of victims who have been treated so unfairly and had no voice.

“The crucial opportunity to have a voice and be heard is an important part of recovery for all victims, and that’s what this legislation and the next steps must still be about.”

Media Contact:

Dr Petrina Hargrave

M: 021 0287 4937

E: petrina.hargrave@victimsupport.org.nz