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Government Moves To Spare Crime Victims Trauma

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Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media
Government Moves To Spare Crime Victims Trauma

The Government is proposing to spare victims of crime the agony of having to relive their trauma through regular parole hearings that have no hope of succeeding.

Justice Minister Simon Power revealed the plan before more than 100 victims' families at the Sensible Sentencing Trust conference at Parliament yesterday.

He said the Government also hoped to introduce a new Victims Rights Act early next year.

Prisoners up for parole would be pre-screened to "weed out" those unlikely to be granted release, this would spare victims the trauma of regular parole board hearings and allow the board to focus on cases requiring more careful consideration, Mr Power said.

Parole board chairman David Carruthers earlier told the conference parole was declined at about 70 percent of hearings.

Screening would prevent a lot of victim distress, save time and money and was a very effective way of making the system more victim-centred and efficient, he said.

The move was welcomed by trust spokesman Garth McVicar, who said the proposal was "a huge step forward".

"I have watched family members throwing up with fear before parole hearings, but if an offender has no chance of parole, why do we put the victims through the agony?"

Mr Power told NZPA the introduction of screening was still some time away.

"We're very keen to hear more about this issue so we don't have situations where people are needlessly reminded of offending where there is little or no chance of someone being granted parole," he said.

Leigh Woodman, whose 15-year-old daughter Vanessa was raped and murdered in Wellington in 1997, said she had attended every parole hearing since murderer Nicholas Hawker became eligible after 10 years of his life sentence.

"It's incredibly stressful going before the parole board time and time again, but we have to do this on behalf of our daughter," she said.

Mr Power also announced plans to unclog the courts and signalled changes to the way courts treated child victims and witnesses, with the possibility of introducing some elements of an inquisitorial justice system -- which focuses on finding the facts of a case, rather than refereeing between the prosecution and defence -- to limit a child's exposure to the courts.

Earlier the father of Sophie Elliott, who was butchered in her own bedroom, told the conference sweeping changes were needed for a criminal justice system, which, he said, was too "offender friendly".

Gil Elliott said the adversarial court system was weighted against victims and their families.

Ms Elliott, 22, was stabbed to death in her bedroom by former boyfriend Clayton Weatherston in January 2008. Weatherston was sentenced to life in prison last year, with a minimum non-parole period of 18 years.

Mr Elliott called for changes to the way legal precedents were used in trials.

He said Weatherston's defence team brought up eight or nine like cases during the trial, "but in fact none of them were like at all".

"Who had been ambushed in their own bedroom, stabbed and cut 216 times, had hair cut off, eyes stabbed numerous times, nose cut off, ears cut off and part of the vagina cut away -- who? No one at all ever," Mr Elliott said.

He called for changes to the burden of proof in straightforward cases where offenders were caught committing a crime.

In those cases, the defence should have to prove innocence rather than the prosecution having to prove guilt.

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