Compensating victims

Monday, 14 October 2013 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Crimes make for daily headlines. In a positive move the Government is planning to set up a National Authority to compensate victims of crime but serious challenges remain to speeding up justice in Sri Lanka. A weekend newspaper reported the Government will set up a national authority for the protection of victims of crime. This is one of the major highlights of a National Assistance and Protection of Victims of Crime (NAPVC) Bill that will be introduced in Parliament. The proposed authority will be empowered to “provide assistance and redress to victims of crime upon an application.” It will be in the form of compensation from a special fund to be established for the purpose and to be managed by the new Authority. However, it is unclear how this authority will be funded and under what specific guidelines compensation will be awarded. The NAPVC is to be vested with quasi-judicial functions to receive complaints of alleged and imminent infringement of rights and entitlement of victims of crime and witnesses and conduct investigations and inquiries into such complaints. The new law will require relevant authorities to take “appropriate corrective measures”. The draft of the proposed Bill which is now being knocked into final shape by the Ministry of Justice also makes provision for the establishment of a separate division in the Police Department for protection of victims of crime and witnesses. This is indeed a much needed development as some of the major cases before the courts have had to deal with this prickly issue. Cases against former DIG Vaas Gunewardana, the Baratha Lakshman Premachandra murder case and the killing of a British tourist in Tangalle are some of the cases that have come under the limelight for threatened witnesses. In fact the latter had to be moved to Colombo on the Attorney General’s advice to safeguard witnesses. Assistance and protection provided to victims of crime and witnesses by courts, in terms of the new law, will include the adoption of special measures such as the conduct of judicial proceedings on camera, preventing the victims of crime or witnesses being unnecessarily harassed, intimidated or influenced by seeing the accused present at the venue of the trial or inquiry. This is intended to prevent the identity of the victim of crime or witnesses from being disclosed. According to the Ministry of Justice, which has worked out the outlines; “this is to be achieved through a video conferencing facility linked to a remote location”. Such a location will be within the territory of Sri Lanka, the documents added. Such steps are long overdue and absolutely essential in sensitive cases of child abuse where the judicial system has to be conscious to protect the victim from further harm. Such provisions may also assist in hate crime and religious extremism cases, which are unfortunately increasing in Sri Lanka. While these developments are positive it is questionable whether they will actually speed up the judicial process in Sri Lanka and quicken the process of getting a verdict. “Justice delayed is justice denied” says the famous adage and the authorities still need to ensure that justice is seen to be done.