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The Impact Statement Podcast - Hon. Paul Goldsmith & Hon. Chris Penk

The Impact Statement Podcast - Hon. Paul Goldsmith & Hon. Chris Penk

Yellow Image card - The Impact Statement with Hon. Chris Penk

Petrina Hargrave (00:06):

Welcome to the Impact Statement, Victim Support's conversation series where we bring victims and survivors issues into the public spotlight and challenge narratives around the impact of crime and traumatic events. I'm Petrina Hargrave, and in this special election series of The Impact Statement, I'm talking with our three main political parties about the key issues for crime victims and what their party would do for victims if it were in government.

Today I'm joined by opposition justice spokesperson Honourable Paul Goldsmith and courts spokesperson Honourable Chris Penk. 

Kia ora Paul Goldsmith and Chris Penk and welcome to The Impact Statement. Thank you so much for joining me. So we're going to talk about victims and let's just get straight to the point. There's a lot of talk at this time of the year, especially about offenders and about offending, but what about victims? What are their needs? Why do you think victims matter, Mr. Goldsmith?

Hon Paul Goldsmith (00:27):

Well, look, thank you. Important to be here. Look, I think there is a sense out in the community that the whole justice system is focused primarily on the needs or the requirements of the perpetrators of crime. And we hear constantly about, I suppose, a culture of excuses for the crime itself and not enough about the impact that those crimes have on the victims of crime. So fundamentally, with the starting point that we have, the best thing we can do, of course, is to reduce the number of victims of crime and to ensure that people aren't victims of crime in the first place. And so if you strip it all back, when we look at our justice policy as a whole, our starting critique I suppose of the current government in six years has there, there's only really been one target that has been clearly expressed, and that is to reduce the prison population by 30%, irrespective of what's going on in the community and the level of crime.

Hon Paul Goldsmith (01:45):

And that the problem is that there's been a 20% reduction in the prison population at the same time as a 33% increase in violent crime and a whole lot of other things. So for us, the most important thing is to focus on reducing the number of victims of crime. And so that's the best thing we can do. And then following on from that, there are a whole lot of other things that we can talk about in the course of this podcast, but that's the starting point. Let's try and make sure that we improve the chances of people not being victims of crime in the first place.

Petrina Hargrave (02:23):

Makes absolute sense. So Mr. Penk, we hear a lot about victim centric. It's a term that's often used a lot in the media these days. What does that mean to you in your own words?

 Chris Penk (02:43):

Well, victim centric, I mean it is exactly what it sounds like, which is centering victims in a system whereby they are obviously hugely involved and they don't choose to be, they're part of the system involuntarily. But the way that criminal trials take place in this country and historically in Britain and other places that we've derived our institutions from, of course, is between the state through the crown and the alleged perpetrator. So of course the victim actually isn't formally a party and there are good reasons for that. But at the same time, a challenge to make sure that, for the reasons that my colleague Paul Goldsmith has just said, is that we don't lose sight of what it is that victims need.

So victim centric means basically allowing for the wishes of the victim, the needs of the victim, and the acknowledging the implications for the victim of offending or alleged offending and giving them a voice throughout that process and taking into account their needs even as we of course do need to still work out the other stuff that is naturally centred on the alleged offender and, if convicted, the criminal. And I think being victim centric doesn't mean that we are making a choice between whether on one hand, if we are victim centric, recognising the needs of the victim and somehow reducing fair trial rights for those who are accused. I mean, it should be possible to have our cake and eat it too and have a fair process whereby everyone has the right to have their day in court, but along the way it needs to be as humane as possible for those who are involuntarily caught up in the system.

Petrina Hargrave (04:21):

I agree. It's not mutually exclusive, it really isn't one or the other. We can have both. Yes. Sorry, carry on.

 Hon Paul Goldsmith (04:29):

And of course there’s enormous variety in the wishes of people who have become victims of crime. I remember speaking to a shop owner in Hamilton who had been robbed on a number of occasions and he said he was invited along to a conference with the young person who did it and he didn't want to spend a day doing that. He said the last thing in the world he wanted to do was meet this person and waste a day of his life to somebody who he believed wouldn't be repentant in any way, shape or form. Whereas there are others who do want to go through a process and meet the people and try and find some way forward. And so there's no one simple path, but one thing that all victims of crime do want to see is some appropriate response to the crime.

Hon Paul Goldsmith (05:31):

And what is most frustrating is, and again we hear this again and again, this sense of bewilderment that I've been a victim of crime and there are no consequences for the people who have done this. Infact, I've just got an email from somebody today whose scooter had been stolen and it was all on CCTV. It was the next door neighbor's son who had done it all on CCTV and the police showed no interest. It wasn't a priority, and that is enough to drive people crazy.

So responsiveness of the system is an important part of the process. And another part of course is ensuring that things that do go to court are dealt with in a timely fashion. And Chris as our court spokesperson is very keenly of aware of when we look at our priorities in the broader justice space, it's around ensuring there are real consequences for crime, for serious violent crime, for youth crime. But the third area is really focusing on the very complex business of trying to get faster justice so that people's lives aren't kept on hold for years waiting for the system to work its way through. So Chris might have more to say on that.

 Chris Penk (06:49):

Yeah, I mean if I can chip in at that point, it's just to acknowledge the point that Paul has made, which is the timeliness because of course the obvious point there is that to the extent that people who have been the victims of crime or complainant as they are formally initially, if they have to wait to tell their story for a long period of time, that's emotionally difficult, and means until such time as they formally have victim status, there might be less resource available to them. Notwithstanding the extra benefits of organisations such as yours, Petrina, and generally being able to move on with their lives.

So partly it's to move them from a place of limbo,but also just in a very practical sense whereby if we allow people to contribute to the process on their own terms and not waste time, as Paul's relayed in the case of that particular victim he's referred to, but they will want to be involved and want to get in the room and see the whites of the offender's eyes and so forth.

So it is different for different people admittedly, but I think if we give that choice and certainly the opportunity to have their say, get off their chest what they need to as soon as possible, then that will be helpful. And to use technological means to achieve that whereby they could, for example, provide testimony or a statement using a video link as we are doing now, we’re doing a podcast, and many other aspects of New Zealand life, of course these days are transacted online. And there's no reason that we need to put people to the cost and inconvenience and expend their own money travelling and so forth unnecessarily. So there'll be cases where we can make participation in the process for victims that much easier, cheaper, and less burdensome all round.

 Petrina Hargrave (08:40):

And a real concern I think is if there are delays in the justice system, which we're currently seeing, is that there's a risk that victims might actually drop out. And we have actually had to actively work with some victims to keep them engaged in the justice process because of that really long delay. So I mean, that's a massive concern, isn't it?

 Hon Paul Goldsmith (08:59):

It's not just the delay of course it, it's also the outcomes of it. And so one of our primary policies that we'll be bringing to the government, the election, is around putting some boundaries around the extent to which judges can reduce sentences through a whole pile of discounts. And we've seen a number of cases, particularly in the sexual crimes,where we've had young men convicted of serious sexual crimes of rape of multiple women and ending up with extremely light sentences - home detention in some cases. And the problem for that is it might well make sense, will be justified for the needs of the perpetrator of the crime, but that's not the sole purpose of the justice system.

It's also about society denouncing the actand that manifestly is not done. And secondly, it's about achieving a sense of justice for the victims. Now, if many people see that and they see the enormous emotional trauma and drain of going through a court process over many years and weighing up all those costs and then looking at the outcome, it very clearly sends a potential message that it's not worth it. And that is, of course, is the opposite of what we want to see in the justice system. So that's why we believe it's important that we get a little bit more balance in the sentencing framework and sending that very clear message that serious crimes do have serious consequences and society is actually interested in seeing that.

Petrina Hargrave (10:50):

Yeah, I mean that's something that we've identified in the research that we've done at Victim Support is that a lot of victims see entering the justice system, even reporting the crime as a gamble.Exactly. That they feel it's just not worth it. And sometimes that's to do with the sentencing or the verdict at the end, but also it's to do with the process so just wondering, Mr. Penk now, as opposition spokesperson for courts. What's your take on courts? A lot of people say it's an incredibly scary experience. How would you describe the experience for victims of going to court? How would you change it?

Chris Penk (11:27):

If we take the starting point that it is a scary process to use your excellent phrase. That's a very fair observation because it is an intimidating environment, not least of all, because in the case of those who have been victimised in a violent way, they might feel physically intimidated. They're being asked to share a literal physical space with someone who they've alleged has done some terrible thing to them. They might feel intimidated by lack of knowledge of the procedure and frankly the surroundings. And it's appropriate that we have justice systems that are not so informal as to be meaningless and as to lose the weight of the institution that's discharging justice on behalf of the state. But at the same time, if we create an inhospitable environment, then not only do we have to answer that very fundamental question, why would I bother such as you've been hearing, I understand Petrina, but also why would I put myself through that process particularly?

So there are things we can do to make the environment safer and more welcoming and more victim friendly, but actually user friendly in general as well. So for those who wish to support, and it might be that we need to have separate spaces available for people as compared with the offender or the alleged offender in their family or whānau or supporters.

And the other thing is, of course, to have a transparent process, oh, sorry, I should add for the sake of completeness, going back to that point about the benefits of online participation, that's an obvious one, but also in terms of the transparency of the process whereby if we allow justice to be seen to be done by having proceedings that are very open to the public and theresults known and sentencing reports made more freely available, that will demystify the whole process and engagement from the point of view of those who just to return to that point are engaged through reasons that are not of their own making.

Petrina Hargrave (13:36):

Yes. So if you were to be elected to government this year, what changes do you think victims might actually experience in their day-to-day lives under a National government?

Hon Paul Goldsmith (13:50):

Well, first we, we'd hope to see a first real focus on reducing the number of victims in the first place as the overriding priority of the justice system. Secondly, a different approach to sentencing which ensures and is designed to achieve real consequences for serious crime so that victims will have a sense of that. And then second, thirdly, a real focus on trying to speed up the court system, which is no simple task. And there aremany sorts of programmes underway to try and do that. And there's about 20 things that need to be done over a course of period of time. But we can give you this assurance that our government will be, if we get the chance, we'll be absolutely focused on that.

And then look, there are also funds available to help with the practical needs of some victims of crime in terms of helping them access to counselling and access to the court system. There are modest funds available. One of the things we're going to be doing is actually stopping the funding for what has grown into a cottage industry around cultural reports and now $6 million a year being spent on those via a whole range of people.

And we think that money would be better spent increasing the funds available for victims of crime to help for those specific little needs. Now no amount of funding can help deal with the trauma of being a victim of serious crime, but there are some things that can make a small difference, and that is something that we think is deserving of extra funding as well.

Petrina Hargrave (15:39):

Fantastic. So you'd like to channel some of that funding that's going into the focus on offenders, basically into supporting victims.

Hon Paul Goldsmith (15:46):

That's right.

Petrina Hargrave

Thank you so much for your time, Paul Goldsmith and Chris Penk. Thank you.

 Chris Penk (20:39):

Thank you for the valuable work you do.

 Hon Paul Goldsmith (20:42):

Alright, thank you.

 Petrina Hargrave

Thank you for joining us today for Victim Support’s election series of The Impact Statement. I hope that you'll tune in for the next conversation.