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Law Commission report on justice response to victims of sexual violence

December 18, 2015 at 8:55 AM

Law Commission publishes report on justice response to victims of sexual violence

*From the New Zealand Family Violence Clearinghouse*

The Law Commission has published its work on improving the justice response for victims of sexual violence.

The report, Justice Response to Victims of Sexual Violence: Criminal Trials and Alternative Processes, acknowledges the significant under-reporting of sexual violence. Research has established that one reason for this is fear and distrust of the legal system.

The Law Commission considered whether the criminal trial process as it applies to cases of sexual violence should be modified or fundamentally changed, in order to improve the system’s fairness, effectiveness, and efficiency and, in particular, the court experience of complainants.

President of the Law Commission, Hon Sir Grant Hammond, said "A high percentage of victims of sexual violence are ‘opting out’ of the very system that is designed to deliver them justice. Appropriate justice processes are required for all victims of sexual violence, including those who may not want to go to trial."

The Law Commission makes a total of 82 recommendations, under three main headings. Firstly, a number of recommendations are made to improve the current trial process, including:

  • A time limit on criminal proceedings involving sexual violence to get to trial
  • Availability of less traumatic methods of giving evidence at trial for complainants of sexual violence
  • Special training for all judges who sit on sexual violence trials
  • Piloting of a specialist sexual violence court and future consideration on whether proceedings in that court should or should not be heard in front of a jury
  • Resourcing the Solicitor-General to publish specific guidelines for the prosecution of cases involving sexual violence.

Secondly, the Commission proposes an alternative justice process, which could be chosen by the victim, to deal with incidents of sexual violence outside of the criminal system. The process would allow eligible victims and perpetrators to reach an agreed outcome, facilitated by accredited experts in sexual violence, and would result in no criminal trial or charges if the process was satisfactorily completed.

Sir Grant Hammond said "The aim is certainly not to displace the criminal justice system, which will always be required to deal with the most egregious cases of sexual violence where the public interest requires prosecution. But real innovation is required to deal with those cases where, no matter what changes are made to the trial process itself, victims simply do not want to go through it because it does not suit their needs and circumstances. To fail to acknowledge this is to fail to address the diverse and distinct needs of victims of sexual violence."

Thirdly, the Commission's report recommends steps to strengthen the support available to victims. This includes recommending the establishment of a Sexual Violence Commission, in the form of an independent Crown entity, to fulfil a need for ongoing leadership and coordination of New Zealand's response to sexual violence. The Law Commission suggests it perform three core functions in the area of research, training/education, and monitoring of the quality of services provided.

Responses to the report are in the media list below (updated regularly).

TOAH-NNEST said it was pleased the review had now been completed after four years. It believed the recommendations were a step in the right direction. However it called for the government to develop an action plan, to "show that government is ‘putting money where its mouth is’ and provide a level of accountability and timeliness to the recommendations and integrity of the report." 

Background information

The Law Commission's work to improve the justice response for victims of family violence was initiated in 2009, stopped by previous Justice Minister Judith Collins in 2012 andresumed by Justice Minister Amy Adams in November 2014.