Justice: Speaking Up for Crime’s Silent Victims, by Garth McVicar with Michael Larson (Penguin, RRP $42):
This book sparked a bit of controversy when it hit the shelves because while Garth McVicar is listed as the author, he didn’t actually write it.
That aside, it is an interesting read because it shows how the Sensible Sentencing Trust – one of the country’s most successful lobby groups – came about. And yes, it is successful because I doubt there’s a Kiwi out there who hasn’t heard of the group, and when it comes to lobby groups, success is surely measured by public recognition of what you are pushing.
The whole “who wrote it” blow-up might have been avoided had the ghostwriter been mentioned on the cover alongside McVicar, or even on the first inside page.
The blurb on the back of the book that proclaims the story of how an ordinary cocky from Hawke’s Bay became a spokesperson for the victims of violent crime, “told in Garth’s straightforward no- nonsense style” doesn’t help.
However, the story of how the Sensible Sentencing Trust came about and what has been achieved since it arrived on the scene is bigger than any minor controversy.
McVicar has his critics, who claim that while he pushed for tougher sentences our prisons are full to overflowing and second or third generations of families are making their way through our justice system.
However, those shortcomings can’t be blamed on a group that gives voice to those who so often in the past have had no voice: the victims and their families. And I’m not going to get all bleeding-hearted on you here by saying these less desirable members of our communities commit crimes because they didn’t get enough hugs when they were nippers or that society has failed them in some way, because I truly believe that by the time you are an adult you have the ability to tell right from wrong and unless you have a mental illness, you are responsible for your own actions.
McVicar has worked his butt off over the years to draw attention to the rising crime rates, the often frighteningly minor penalties imposed on our criminals and to aid families hurt by these crimes in having their say.
Sentences have been increased for various crimes over the years but I think the most important part of his work has been helping crime victims and their families find their voices so they can tell their stories and give those crimes a human face – because that is what makes us take notice.
The history is interspersed with the stories of some of the cases the trust has been involved with and while some of it is at times hard to read it also shows the strength and compassion that has been the backbone of this group.
Ignore the ghost-writer grumblings, this book is worth a read.