How to obtain support and exercise your rights as a victim within New Zealand
Being the victim of a crime is often a dramatic and overwhelming event. However, there are a number of organisations that give support to people in your situation. Victims also have some specific rights laid down by the NZ VICTIMS' RIGHTS ACT 2002.
Important provisions affecting victims are also contained in the SENTENCING ACT 2002, which provides for offenders to pay compensation, or "reparation", to victims, and in the PAROLE ACT 2002, which sets out victims' rights to have input into decisions about the release of offenders from prison.
When you first make your complaint to the NZ Police, they should tell you what the likely process will be for investigating the offence and prosecuting the offender. They will also put you in touch with Victim Support, who will guide you through the investigation and any later court process.
When you first go to the Police you'll need to make a statement setting out your version of what happened. If charges are laid and the offender pleads Not Guilty, you may have to give evidence in court as a witness (see How to appear as a witness).
What organisations can I turn to for support as a victim?
- Victim Support is a community organisation providing support to victims of crimes, accidents and emergencies. As well as providing you with general emotional support, Victim Support workers can assist you by informing you about your rights as a victim, by getting information for you about how the Police investigation and the court process is progressing, by giving practical support with things like insurance claims, and by putting you in touch with agencies that provide counselling and other services. You can contact Victim Support through the phonebook or through your local Police station.
- Court Services for Victims, which is part of the Ministry of Justice, employs Victim Advisors to provide support for victims if the matter is going through the court. They will contact you when the court process begins. Victim Advisors will explain the court process to you and what is happening in your case, convey your views to the court, liaise with the Police, explain the process of being a witness if that is necessary, and help you with the return of your property from the Police or prosecution.
- There are also a number of specialist support organisations such as Women's Refuges, Rape Crisis centres and Sexual Abuse Help centres. Victim Support or the Victim Advisor can put you in touch with these organisations.
Who decides what charges are to be laid?
The Police decide whether or not to lay charges against the offender, not you the victim. If you believe that the Police are not investigating the case properly, or that they should be laying charges but aren't doing so, you can complain to the Police Complaints Authority (see How to complain to the Police Complaints Authority).
What rights do I have as a victim?
Under the VICTIMS' RIGHTS ACT 2002 all victims have a number of specific rights:
- Courteous and respectful treatment: Anyone who deals with you - for example, Police, lawyers, judges and court staff - must treat you with courtesy and compassion, and with respect for your personal dignity and privacy.
- Information about the criminal process: You must also be kept informed about:
- how the Police investigation of the offence is progressing
- what charges have been laid (if no charges are laid, you must be told why not)
- whether you are needed as a witness, and what that will involve
- when and where the court hearing will be
- what the outcome of the case is, including the outcome of any appeal
- Access to appropriate services: If you or your family have welfare, health, counselling, medical or legal needs arising from the offence, you should have access to services that are responsive to those needs.
- Information about government services:The state agencies with which you come into contact must tell you, as soon as practicable, about the programmes, remedies or services that they can provide to you. This applies to the Accident Compensation Corporation; the Department of Child, Youth and Family Services; the Ministry of Justice; the Ministry of Social Development; District Health Boards (and the hospital and health services they provide); and the Police.
- Protection: You must also be told about what protection against unlawful intimidation is available to you under the Domestic Violence Act 1995 (see How to obtain a protection order under the Domestic Violence Act) and the Harassment Act 1997 (see How to take action against harassment).
Do I get a chance to have input into the court process?
Yes, as a victim you'll have a number of opportunities to do this:
- Bail: Any fears you have about the defendant being released on bail will be conveyed to the judge if you've been the victim of a rape or other serious assault, or if you or someone else were seriously injured by the offence, or if you have ongoing fears about your own safety or that of your immediate family.
- Diversion for the defendant: The Police will consult with you about whether to offer diversion to a defendant. "Diversion" is where the Police drop the charge against the defendant on the condition that he or she admit the charge and pay you compensation or do community work or both.
- Sentencing: You may be asked to make a "Victim Impact Statement", which is a report on the physical and emotional effects that the crime has had on you. It's given to the judge to take into account when sentencing the offender. The Victim Impact Statement can be very influential in the sentencing procedure as it gives the judge the chance to put a face to the victim. You can also ask the judge to allow you to read some or all of the Victim Impact Statement aloud to the court.
- Being present during the process: You'll also be encouraged to attend various parts of the court process â€“ such as pre-trial "status hearings" â€“ and you'll usually be able to make your views known there.
Will I be notified if the offender is released or escapes?
Victims of certain serious offences have the right to ask the Police to place their name and contact details on the "Victim Notification Register". They'll then be told if the offender is released or escapes. This applies to you if you're the victim of a rape or other serious assault, or if you or someone else were seriously injured by the offence, or if you have ongoing fears about your own safety or that of your immediate family.
Being placed on this Register means that you'll be notified:
- if the offender is released on bail at any stage of the court process, and of any bail conditions that relate to your or your family's safety or security
- if the offender is about to be released from prison (including a temporary release) or from home detention, or is about to be considered for release from prison on parole or to home detention
- if the offender escapes from prison or breaches home detention rules, or is convicted of breaching parole conditions or home detention conditions, or is recalled to serve his or her sentence in prison
- if the offender dies in prison or on home detention
- in the case of an offender held as a psychiatric patient, if the offender is about to be discharged from hospital or given an unescorted leave of absence, or has escaped or died
If you want you can appoint someone else, a "representative", to receive these notices. This might be, for example, a person from Victim Support (see above). You'll need to appoint them in writing.
Can I have input into decisions about parole and conditions of release?
You'll be able to do this if you're on the Victim Notification Register (which, as explained above, applies only to victims of certain serious offences). The Parole Board must then notify you if it's about to consider releasing the offender from prison on parole or on home detention, or to consider what conditions should be imposed if the offender is due for release. You'll have the opportunity to tell the Parole Board about your views. This right is contained in the PAROLE ACT 2002.
The Parole Board may or may not decide to hold a full hearing. If it does, you'll be allowed to attend and say what you think. If it doesn't hold a hearing, you'll still have the right to have an interview with one of the members of the Board and tell him or her what you think.
Can I get compensation for the crime?
- Accident Compensation: If you've suffered physical injury as the result of a crime, ACC will pay for your medical treatment and for up to 80 percent of your lost weekly income. If you've suffered mental trauma or shock, but not physical injury, you won't be covered by ACC unless you were the victim of rape or other sexual offences. See How to claim accident compensation.
- Compensation from the offender: When it passes sentence, the court must order the offender to pay you "reparation", unless this would cause undue hardship to the offender or his or her dependants or there are other special circumstances. The purpose of reparation is to help compensate you for emotional harm or damage to your property, or for indirect harm resulting from the emotional or physical harm that the offence caused you. This covers the type of harm that isn't normally covered by ACC. For more on sentences, see How to: Facing criminal changes.
The Prisoners' and Victims' Claims Act 2005 regulates the awarding of compensation to prisoners for breaches of their rights, and establishes a system whereby victims of compensated prisoners can claim for damages out of the compensation awarded to the prisoner.
- Fines: Under the SENTENCING ACT 2002, you cannot be awarded some or all of any fine that the offender is ordered to pay. Instead the Act increases the range of cases in which offenders will be ordered to pay reparation to victims (see above).
What can I do if my rights as a victim are breached?
The VICTIMS' RIGHTS ACT 2002 specifically requires that you be dealt with courteously and respectfully, and that you must have access to services that are responsive to your needs. But these are not legal rights that you can enforce in the courts. They are merely guiding principles for people working in the justice system and in other state agencies who come into contact with victims of offences.
All the other, more specific rights in the Act do create legally enforceable rights, and therefore technically could be the basis of a legal action. But a court or tribunal would be limited in what it could do: it cannot award you money as damages or compensation for a breach of these rights unless you could have been awarded it anyway under a different law. For example, the Human Rights Review Tribunal can't award you compensation for a breach of your rights under the Act unless the breach involved an interference with your privacy and therefore would justify compensation anyway under the PRIVACY ACT 1993.
The VICTIMS' RIGHTS ACT 2002 also specifies that if one of your specific rights under the Act have been breached, you can complain to:
- the person who breached your rights, or
- an Ombudsman, if the person who breached your rights is part of central or local government (see How to lodge a complaint with the Ombudsman), or
- the Police Complaints Authority, if the Police have breached your rights under the Act (see How to complain to the Police Complaints Authority), or
- the Privacy Commissioner, if the breach involves or may involve an interference with your privacy under the rules in the PRIVACY ACT 1993 (see How to complain to the Privacy Commissioner)
- If at any time you believe your rights as a victim are being interfered with (for example, your right to be kept informed), you may wish to consult a lawyer, who will protect your interests.
- If you're concerned that you'll be intimidated or harassed by the offender or his or her associates, a lawyer will also be able to advise you about obtaining protection under the Domestic Violence Act 1995 (see How to obtain a protection order under the Domestic Violence Act) or the Harassment Act 1998 (see How to take action against harassment).