Poor treatment of crime victims, Māori exposed in justice report

Chester Borrows said some victims found the criminal justice system as traumatic as the crime they had suffered. - Photo: RNZ

Racism is embedded in every area of the criminal justice system, according to a report released by the Safe and Effective Justice advisory group.

The report is also critical of how victims are treated within the system, saying people have a lack of faith in it, which suggests it is not fit for purpose.

The advisory group has been around the country in the past few months, tasked with finding out what is and is not working in the criminal justice system.

Chester Borrows is leading the advisory group, and said the report should not come as a surprise.

He said there were serious issues in New Zealand's criminal justice system, and the advisory group was now preparing a number of recommendations that would be submitted to parliament in August.

Mr Borrows said victims were particularly disappointed with the criminal justice system.

"For crimes against a person - especially sexual crimes and crimes of indecency - most complainants know it's very, very difficult.

"These sorts of crimes often happen when there's nobody else around, so it's often one word against another.

"The manner of getting clinical, independent forensic evidence certainly isn't pleasant, if not downright disgusting to people.

"Then there's the interrogation, and the accusations that are made through the interview processes, or through the court processes, and people who do go through the process of a prosecution say they'd never do that again.

"They feel just as damaged by the process as they did by the offending."

The report states victims have a lack of faith in the system, which undermines its integrity and suggests it is not fit for purpose.

Māori 'treated much worse'

The report also looks at the over-representation of Māori in the criminal justice system, describing it as a crisis.

It states "the effects of colonisation undermine, disenfranchise and conspire to trap Maori in the criminal justice system" and that "racism is embedded in every part of it".

Mr Borrows said that was an inarguable fact.

"Most people outside, with no knowledge of the criminal justice system and how it works in our country, would say there's one law for all and everyone gets treated the same.

"Well, Māori would say, 'Bring on the day when it's one law for all' because currently as it sits, Māori are treated much worse in every aspect of criminal justice than any other race, particularly Pākehā."

The report states Māori feel a strong sense of disengagement from the system, one they would have agreed to when the Treaty of Waitangi was signed.

Māori are eager to be part of the reform process, and would like to use more Māori principles incorporated.

Bias against sexual complainants

Mr Borrows said the treatment of family and sexual violence complainants was terrible.

"We've still got a lot of ridiculous bias out there in relation to sexual complainants.

"I mean, we've got lawyers standing up in court making ridiculous accusations against complainants because when a woman got up in the morning, she put on a bra and knickers that matched.

"And [they] suggested to the jury, that she intended having sex with someone at the end of the day.

"You know, this is the 21st century in God's own country, and it's just rubbish to think that those sorts of statements are allowed to be made."

The Safe and Effective Justice advisory group will provide a further report in August, which will detail a number of recommendations for the justice system.