Top judge Dame Sian Elias is questioning whether victims have become too involved in the criminal justice system and there is now a call for her to resign.
She has raised concerns in the Beehive after a speech to the Law Society that slated the "punitive and knee-jerk" response of successive governments to criminal justice issues.
The speech, delivered last week but made public yesterday, suggested shortening prison sentences, allowing more bail and probation, and making greater use of community-based sentences.
Dame Sian also suggested that some prisoners be given an amnesty as a way of relieving prison overcrowding.
Justice Minister Simon Power has told Dame Sian to stay out of government policy and victim support groups have expressed anger at her suggestions.
In the speech Dame Sian, chief justice and head of the Supreme Court's judges, said there was no question of going back to the days when victims were largely irrelevant in criminal proceedings.
"But I would like to see some serious assessment of whether the emotional and financial cost of keeping victims in thrall to the criminal justice processes does help their recovery from the damage they have suffered or whether they are re-victimised through these processes."
Dame Sian whose brother-in-law, Jim Fletcher, was stabbed to death by an intruder in his Papamoa beach house in 1994 said a new emphasis on the victims of crime had marked a substantial shift in the criminal justice system.
It put at risk the detached system of deciding criminal blame and meant courtrooms could now be very angry places.
The shift in focus had a profound impact on court processes and Parole Board hearings.
"Cool impartial justice is not getting a very good press these days," she said.
But Sensible Sentencing Trust spokesman Garth McVicar said the suggestion was "outrageous" and it was important victims had a big involvement in the system.
"It is important for the victim to heal, feel like justice has been done. To do that they need to be involved in the whole justice process. The victims' views need to be heard loud and clear. For a top judge to make a comment like that is outrageous. It's a kick in the guts."
Victim Support chief executive Tony Paine acknowledged the justice system could not provide everything a crime victim needed to help get their lives back on track, but involvement and participation did matter.
Dame Sian is also under fire for suggesting that some prisoners be given an amnesty as a way of relieving prison overcrowding.
She said she did not know whether the idea was practical or even politically acceptable, but thought it needed to be considered.
"We need to look at direct tools to manage the prison population if overcrowding is not to cause significant safety and human rights issues.
"Such solutions will not please many ... But the alternatives and the cost of overcrowding need to be weighed."
But Mr McVicar said an amnesty would dilute the deterrent effect of prisons and was unfair to victims of crime. "It's corrupt. I think she is totally on the wrong track. She should resign, if that's what she thinks, because it will be difficult for her to continue in her job."
Mr Power said inmates would not get amnesties. "I have ruled out such a move."
Chief Justice Dame Sian Elias:
"I would like to see some serious assessment of whether the emotional and financial cost of keeping victims in thrall to the criminal justice processes does help their recovery from the damage they have suffered or whether they are revictimised through these processes."
Justice Minister Simon Power:
"The Government is elected to set sentencing policy. Judges are appointed to apply it."
Sensible Sentencing Trust's Garth McVicar:
"The victims' view needs to be heard loud and clear. For a top judge to make a comment like that is outrageous. It's a kick in the guts."
Victim Support chief executive Tony Paige:
"Feeling that justice has been done and appropriate participation in court and parole processes can be very important parts of people finding hope and strength as they deal with the aftermath of terrible events.
- The Dominion Post