victims rights

In the criminal justice system of most countries, criminal law is (statutory law) and criminal offenses are considered to be offenses against the state rather than offences against individuals or communities. As a result, the state's actions to prosecute and punish or incarcerate criminals can be unsatisfying, cause economic or emotional hardship or provide offenders with further opportunities to physically or emotionaly injure vicitms.

In 1985 the United Nations General Assembly adopted the
Declaration of Basic Principles of Justice for Victims of Crime and Abuse of Power

In Canada Bill C-79 (1999) gave victims of crime several rights including:
  • the right to be notified of parole hearings
  • the right to be informed of whereabouts of parolees.
  • the right to present victim impact statements

In 2003 Canada revised its Canadian Statement of Basic Principles of

Position: Amend the US Contitution (as per The Feinstein-Kyl Amendment) to include victims rights.

This legislation gives victims eight specific rights under civil law including the right to:

  • Be reasonably protected from the accused offender;
  • Reasonable and timely notice of any public proceeding involving the crime or of any release or escape of the accused;
  • Not be excluded from any such public proceeding;
  • Be heard at any public proceeding involving release, plea, sentencing, reprieve, and pardon;
  • Confer with the Government attorney in the case;
  • Full and timely restitution as provided in law;
  • Timely and accurate information about public proceeding involving the crime or of any release or escape of the accused; and
  • Be treated with fairness and with respect for the victim's dignity and privacy.

Bush's Argument fo Victims Rights

(Each year) Americans were victims of millions of crimes. Behind each of these numbers is a terrible trauma, a story of suffering and a story of lost security. Yet the needs of victims are often an afterthought in our criminal justice system. It's not just, it's not fair, and it must change. (Applause.) As we protect the rights of criminals, we must take equal care to protect the rights of the victims. (Applause.)

Many of the victims of crime have gotten a crash course in the complications and frustrations of our criminal justice system. One victim put it this way: "They explained the defendant's constitutional right to the nth degree. They couldn't do this and they couldn't do that because of his constitutional rights. And I wondered what mine were. And they told me, I hadn't got any." The guy sounded like he came from Texas. (Laughter.)

But too often, our system fails to inform victims about proceedings involving bail and pleas and sentencing and even about the trials themselves. Too often, the process fails to take the safety of victims into account when deciding whether to release dangerous offenders.

Too often, the financial losses of victims are ignored. And too often, victims are not allowed to address the court at sentencing and explain their suffering, or even to be present in the courtroom where their victimizers are being tried.

When our criminal justice systems treats victims as irrelevant bystanders, they are victimized for a second time. And because Americans are justifiably proud of our system and expect it to treat us fairly, the second violation of our rights can be traumatic. "It's like a huge slap," said one victim, "because you think the system will protect you. It's maddening and frightening."

Sources and Resources

A Victim’s Guide to the Canadian
Criminal Justice System
(pdf) by the Canadian Resource Centre for Victims of Crime