Court related changes: FV Safety programme and cultural reports

Mon 08 Apr 2024

Changes to court related areas include expanding eligibility for Family Violence Adult Safety Programmes and changes to legal aid funding for section 27 reports.

photo of a scales of justice on a desk

Changes related to courts

Recent changes affect victim/survivors and offenders in Courts. This includes expanding the eligibility for Family Violence Adult Safety Programmes in the Family Court and changes to legal aid funding for section 27 reports, known as cultural reports.

Expanded eligibility for Family Violence Adult Safety programmes

People who apply for protection orders without notice and are then directed to proceed on notice by the judge will be offered a safety programme before the protection order application is considered. This change came into effect from January 2024. The Ministry of Justice (MOJ) update for lawyers providing Legal Aid related to the expansion of the programmes also notes that "Children will be able to access safety programmes when requested by the service provider, as they are best placed to assess the risk to the applicant and their children."

Find further details in the MOJ update for family violence safety and non-violence providers for January 2024.

For information for people experiencing family violence, see the Ministry of Justice information on Safety and wellbeing for you and your children.

This change is part of the Budget 2023 initiative to ‘Improve access to family violence programmes in court and the community.’ For more information on this initiative, see page 14 of Te Puna Aonui's Budget 2023 briefing.

Changes to legal aid funding for section 27 reports

Legal aid funding is no longer available to support section 27 reports (related to section 27 of the Sentencing Act 2002), also known as cultural reports. The Legal Services Amendment Bill received Royal Assent on 7 March 2024 and came into effect 14 days later. Justice Minister Paul Goldsmith said "Once the Bill is enacted, Section 27 reports will be excluded from legal aid funding and return to their original purpose."

The MOJ update for lawyers providing legal aid related to the changes notes that legal aid funding is prevented from written reports or in-person appearances. The NZ Bar Association notes that under section 27, offenders may still be able to call on a person to speak to the Court about their background as originally intended by the Sentencing Act.

In an article for the Spinoff on What are cultural sentencing reports and why does National want to scrap them?, authors Tara Oakley and Rebecca Cupples note that:

"Section 27 reports look for reasons, not excuses, for an offender’s behaviour. They consider how someone’s background might have contributed to their offending, if any actions have been taken to resolve the offending, and what support mechanisms might prevent further offending.

The backgrounds of offenders commonly include things like substance abuse disorders, mood disorders, personality disorders, neurodivergence, learning difficulties, illiteracy, brain injuries, poverty, and trauma – including extraordinary rates of historic family, sexual, and violent victimisation. State care is another commonality." (emphasis added)

In a Newsroom article about concerns for losing funding for section 27 reports, AUT School of Law Dean Khylee Quince said:

“I’ve done a few hundred reports, and I don’t think I’ve ever done one for a person who is not also a victim of significant offending.

“You might judge them as being bad people, but they often have really big backgrounds of really terrible abuse. Quite often I’ll be the only person they’ve ever spoken to about that abuse.”

Advocates, academics and lawyers have raised concerns about the loss of legal aid funding for section 27 reports. See related media below for more information.

Related media

Ending legal aid for cultural reports at sentencing may only make court hearings longer and costlier, The Conversation, 15.02.2024

Law Society condemns Government proposal as ‘significant breach of fundamental rights’, Stuff, 09.02.2024

Access to justice impacted by proposed repeal of sentencing report funding, Law Society News, 08.02.2024

Image: Katrin Bolovtsova on Pexels

More news articles about Government