Last week I made important progress in getting justice for victims of crime by offenders found insane. The driver for this change has been two very brave Nelson constituents, Wendy Hamer and Sarah Preece, both who have been to hell and back.
Wendy was the victim of an attempted murder while working as a mental health nurse. The patient punched, kicked, stabbed and poured boiling water over her while openly proclaiming he would get off on an insanity plea. He did and was sent for psychiatric care in Christchurch. The law denied Wendy any victim’s rights such as being consulted or notified on his release. He soon returned to Nelson, terrifying Wendy in a chance encounter at a supermarket. Wendy came to me for help over the chilling case and we organised “Wendy’s Petition” demanding change.
Sarah Preece was violently raped in her Brook Valley home. The West Coast man had sought mental health help at Nelson Hospital’s emergency department, but walked out after hours of inattention. Sarah was a random victim who was subjected to a horrendous physical and sexual assault. His successful insanity plea meant Sarah had no legal right to a Victim Impact Statement nor any say on the conditions of his release. A bizarre twist is the offender was entitled to Sarah’s personal health records but she could not access his on privacy grounds. The system wrongly favours the rights of offenders over victims.
The number of defendants pleading insanity nationwide has soared from four in 2000 to now over 40 per year. There has been 38 cases involving murder or manslaughter since 2000 where the attacker has been not guilty by way of insanity. One of those cases was the killing of Colin Moyle by a paranoid schizophrenic who attacked him with boiling water, beat him with a shovel, poured petrol over him and sadistically watched him burn to death. Colin’s brother, Graeme Moyle, was appalled at the denial of his families’ rights as victims and has campaigned for reform through his Taupo National MP, Louise Upton. I have been working with Louise on these law changes.
The Rights of Victims of Insane Offenders Bill introduced to Parliament last Thursday makes three changes. It amends the Crimes Act from “not guilty on account of insanity” to “proven but the defendant is not criminally responsible on account of insanity”. It amends the Victims Rights Act so these victims get the same rights as others. It amends the Mental Health Act so victims are heard on decisions of detention, escorted leave and conditions of placement.
I pay huge tribute to Wendy and Sarah for their courage to make society safer and fairer. I also thank the 1467 Nelsonians who signed Wendy’s petition. We are on the home straight but not there yet. I encourage supportive submissions to the Justice Select committee at firstname.lastname@example.org, my office or my caravan at the Nelson Market. I am Deputy Chair of the Committee and will be doing all I can to have this law change in place by Christmas.