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Victim bill of rights could clog court system

StephanieHeyens1

Victims have every right to sue an accused civilly if they feel uncompensated within the criminal system, says Toronto criminal lawyer Stephanie Heyens, who agrees that the introduction of a victim bill of rights won’t have any effect outside of bogging down the court system.

“I believe the vast majority of victims and jurors and others inside the system are content with how the system works,” says Heyens. “The people who are dissatisfied are ‘armchair quarterbacks’ who only read media reports, are horrified prosecutors are not taking instructions from victims, and who mistakenly believe prosecutors are the victims’ lawyers.”

According to Law Times, the introduction of the victim bill of rights by the federal government in the coming months has some defence lawyers unsure of how it will benefit the system other than putting pressure on prosecutors to fight not only for a conviction, but for the victims.

“The point of criminal sanctions is for independent prosecutors, who are not so emotionally connected, to assess both sides and determine the appropriate sanction to seek from the court,” says Heyens. “They act for the Queen prosecuting those who harm her subjects.”

Heyens says the potential that such a bill of rights could impact how prosecutors view who they are serving in the courtroom is problematic. She agrees with Criminal Lawyers’ Association president Anthony Moustacalis that the best way to help victims is to provide more money to access legal representation and advice. Currently, the maximum amount any victim of any crime can receive is $25,000.