More than half of serious crime victims lack faith in the justice system and feel justice was not served in their case, new research released today by Victim Support has found.
As part of the research, the independent charity conducted in-depth interviews with New Zealanders affected by serious crimes, including homicide, sexual violence and family violence, and who had engaged with the justice system in the last 12 years.
Of the more than 600 people interviewed, 59 per cent said they had no faith in the justice system, and 68 per cent felt justice had not been served in their case, the report revealed.
This was despite 73 per cent of cases in the study resulting in a guilty verdict, and 52 per cent resulting in imprisonment of the offender.
"There's a perception that when victims are let down by the justice system, it’s often because their offender is not given a harsh sentence," Victim Support researcher Dr Petrina Hargrave said.
"Our research shows that justice is much more complex than whether the offender is found guilty or receives a prison sentence."
Three key barriers to justice were identified by the victims interviewed, including feelings of fear, exclusion and unfairness.
"For many, seeking justice was about keeping themselves and others safe, but there was a fear that engaging in the justice system would actually pose a risk to their safety, both physically and emotionally," Ms Hargrave said.
"The justice system is a high-risk environment for victims and being part of it takes courage."
Victims commonly reported that they felt they had no genuine voice in the justice system, with one victim telling researchers of their experience with the justice system: "'It's like you have no voice and they have no ears.'"
Ms Hargrave said victims often reported feeling as though not being heard due to the system's focus on two distinct dichotomies - that of the state and the offender.
"[The victims] currently have no formal place in the justice system. The two parties in the adversarial system are the offender and the state.
"The state acts for the victim, while the individual victim's role is reduced to that of a witness for the state," she explained.
Ms Hargrave added, however, that "the justice system had the potential to shift from a system that compounds the harm victims have already suffered to one that is part of their healing process".
"We need to do more than let victims into the justice system. We need to put their needs at the centre of it."
In a statement released today, the Government's chief victims advisor said of the findings: "Almost every day, I hear complaints from victim advocates about victims not feeling supported, believed or listened to, and the victim's voices we are hearing from the survey are telling us the same thing.
"Respondents noted that victims need to be at the centre or the justice system, and we need to ensure that they are supported and considered throughout the process. They often felt that there needed to be more opportunities for victims to have their say throughout the criminal justice process and that perpetrators of crime seemed to have more rights than them.
"There is still a long way to go to provide victims with the support and guidance they need when navigating the criminal justiec system. I am very grateful to those who have shared their voices, views and stories and I recognise the bravery that it took to share that with us."
The preliminary findings were presented to 160 victim advocates and a range of experts at the Hāpaitia te Oranga Tangata Safe and Effective Justice: Strengthening the Criminal Justice System for Victims summit in Wellington.
A full report will be released once the analysis has been completed, the Ministry of Justice said.