Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Forensic expert speaks out about failings in the criminal justice system

David WellsAdjunct Associate Professor David Wells (Head, Clinical Forensic Medicine, VIFM), in an interview with John Sylvester, Crime Reporter with The Age, says that the criminal justice system consistently fails sex crime victims, with many deserving cases not reaching court.  According to Associate Professor Wells, ''There is something fundamentally wrong with the way we treat the majority of rape victims. Most never get their day in court and never get to hear the words, 'guilty as charged'”.  ''In the vast majority of cases the victim knows the accused and the prosecution goes nowhere.''

Associate Prof Wells also feels that the criminal justice system doesn’t offer enough assistance to intellectually and psychologically vulnerable victims of sex crimes.  He did feel, however that in cases involving obvious injuries and serial offenders (which only account for about 10% of reported cases) the court system works well.

Dr Wells said the process of deinstitutionalising psychiatric patients had also had a significant impact.  ''We have found people with mental health issues are grossly over-represented as both crime victims and offenders.''  ''Mental health care is significantly under-resourced.''  Police are increasingly concerned about the problems of dealing with people with psychiatric illnesses and have commissioned a study with Monash University to examine the growing problem of attempted ‘suicide by cop’, with about two incidents reported every week.

On the subject of drink driving, Associate Professor Wells said that while this is reducing, there is a core of hardened drinkers who remain a menace on the roads.  Drugs in road trauma is also a growing concern.  He said the system fails to adequately deal with banned drivers who continue to drive while unlicensed.  ''Unlicensed drivers are over-represented in the road toll. Their cars should be seized.''  ''If they say their wife or husband needs the car that's too bad, they should have thought of that before they lost their licence.''

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