The experience of two Nelson constituents has exposed for me a flaw in our justice system that needs to be fixed. That is why I am asking people to add their signatures to Wendy’s Petition seeking the same rights and protection for victims when the offender is found to be insane.
Wendy is a Nelson nurse who was brutally assaulted by a mental health patient. She was kicked, stabbed and scalded during which the attacker said he would get off on an insanity plea. This is what happened when he was charged with attempted murder. The offender was recently re-located to Nelson without any opportunity for Wendy to have a say.
Another constituent, Sarah faced a similar trauma when she was brutally raped last year in a Nelson home invasion by a deranged man. She has sustained a brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder.
The problem is that because these offenders were found not guilty by way of insanity these women did not have the same rights as the victim of a criminal offender. They had no right to a victim impact statement in the court proceedings. They have no opportunity to a say on when and where the special patient is subsequently released or any conditions of release. I also find it unjust that the offender has the right to access personal information about the victim for their defence but the victim has no right to any information about the offender’s health status on privacy grounds.
This anomaly in the law is affecting more people with the national growth in successful insanity pleas. There were four in 2000, 16 in 2000 and 36 in 2017. Some legal and mental health professionals have argued that a victim should not get a say as they are not experts. This is flawed. We allow victims to have a say before the Parole Board despite them not having the expert skills to make an assessment of the likelihood of re-offending.
The reason for giving victims a say is to ensure that the justice and health system does not become so focused on the offender that they lose perspective of the innocent victim. It also allows conditions of care and release to ensure the victim feels safe.
I am in awe of Wendy’s courage in taking up this case for reform after all she has been through. Famous civil rights activist and US founder Benjamin Franklin said “Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are.”
I invite Nelsonians to support Wendy’s petition. You can sign online at parliament.govt.nz, at my site at the Saturday Nelson Market or at my caravan at the Nelson A & P Show this weekend, the Collingwood St Pharmacy, Age Concern in Richmond or pick up petition forms from my Electorate office.
The petition closes 9 March 2019. Together we can make this much needed improvement in our justice system.