Evaluation of sexual violence pilot court; changes to be permanent in Auckland and Whangārei

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The District Court has released the evaluation report for the sexual violence court pilot in Auckland and Whangārei.

The findings from the evaluation confirm a number of successful outcomes, including shorter wait times for cases to go to trial and reduced trauma to complainants (victims/survivors).

Key findings from the evaluation are outlined in a media release by Acting Chief District Court Judge John Walker:

    • "Pilot cases progress more efficiently, faster and with fewer delays overall;
    • Stakeholders perceive that trial quality has improved, with fewer adjournments and better quality evidence;
    • Complainants are generally better prepared for attending trial, reducing anxiety;
    • Judges are more alert to unacceptable questioning and intervene more frequently;
    • Judges are more actively involved with cases from an earlier stage, and case review hearings are considerably more thorough and comprehensive;
    • Giving defendants firm trial dates earlier is resulting in more and earlier guilty pleas;
    • Dedicated case managers are critical to success; and
    • There is unanimous support among stakeholders to roll the pilot model out nationally."

The full report, Sexual Violence Court Pilot Evaluation Report (2019), explores the impacts of the pilot in several areas, including preparing and starting the pilot, case management, trial management and wider impacts of the pilot.

HELP Auckland provided independent victim advocacy services in half of the pilot cases observed by Sexual Violence Victim Advisors. SVVAs  felt  that  the  pilot  (and  indeed  all  sexual  violence  cases)  should  be sufficiently funded to allow each complainant witness to be assigned both an SVVA and a victim advocate (page 46).

The Chief District Court Judge established the pilot with the support of the Ministry of Justice in December 2016. The evaluation covered the first two years of the pilot.

The report also discusses learnings from the pilot and reflects on rolling out the pilot nationwide. One of the key findings in this area was "... unanimous support for the pilot model to be rolled out nationally" (page 99).

A fact sheet published by the District Court states "The pilot will now become permanent in Whāngārei and Auckland but any rollout to other centres depends on resourcing decisions beyond judicial control."

In a recently announced package of reforms to improve the justice response for victims of sexual violence, Parliamentary Under-Secretary to the Minister of Justice Jan Logie recommended waiting to make a decision on national rollout of the pilot until after the evaluation of the pilot was completed.

The report was prepared by Gravitas Research and Strategy, an independent consultancy. Gravitas held interviews with complainants and interviews and focus groups with stakeholders. The Ministry of Justice analysed quantitative data for the report.

For more information, listen to an interview on Radio NZ with Former Chief District Court Judge Jan-Marie Doogue (who was to be sworn in as a Justice of the High Court on 19 August 2019).

Victim advocates Louise Nicholas and Chief Victims Advisor Dr Kim McGregor welcomed the report findings.

Background information

For more information on the pilot, see our previous story New sexual violence court process to be piloted in Whangārei and Auckland and the research report Improving the justice response to victims of sexual violence: Victims' experiences (2018)

Related news

The Law Commission published the final report of the review of the Evidence Act 2006 which including a specific focus on rules of evidence related to sexual and family violence. 

Update: The Government has no tabled in Parliament the response to the Law Commission’s report. Many of the recommendations have been accepted. The Government will look to introduction legislation in 2020 to amend the Evidence Act.

The Chief Victims Advisor Dr Kim McGregor has released two reports related to strengthening the criminal justice system for victims/survivors. This includes a report on the results from a survey of victims/survivors and a report summarising a workshop that took place in March 2019.

Related research

Professor Elisabeth McDonald from the University of Canterbury is "currently leading four projects, which are documenting the nature and process of questioning adult rape complainants. The aim of these projects, which include an evaluation of the questioning processes in the Specialist Sexual Violence Court Pilot, is to propose legal and procedural changes that are responsive to some of the concerns expressed about unfairness."

Related media

Crown prosecutor calls for specialist courts to be rolled out for sexual assault cases across the country following successful pilot scheme, One News, 19.08.2019

#MeToo: Sexual abuse and rape claims to ACC soar - 'It is sheeting home to every one of us', NZ Herald [premium], 15.08.2019

The ‘promising young athlete’ cliche risks erasing the victim’s reality, Spinoff, 14.08.2019

Teenage rapist 'got off very lightly' after admitting sex attacks on two girls, Stuff, 13.08.2019 

Jan Logie: The Government’s secret success story, Newsroom, 26.07.2019

Update on the Sexual Violence Court Pilot in the District Court, District Court of New Zealand media release, 22.05.2019

Police approach to rape has improved, results haven’t, Newsroom, 17.05.2019

Trial of man accused of indecently touching boys ends in hung jury, RNZ, 16.05.2019

Advocate for sexual assault victims takes aim at 'rape culture and toxic masculinity' in New Zealand, TVNZ, 15.05.2019

Court process for dealing with sexual assault cases needs overhaul, says law expert, TVNZ, 14.05.2019

Elisabeth McDonald: The seed of reasonable doubt in rape cases involving intoxication, Stuff, 14.05.2019

Victim blaming in sexual assault cases 'appalling', Crown Prosecutor says amid damning statistics, TVNZ, 13.05.2019

Slut-shaming for women and protection for men: is this system fair? Stuff, 12.05.2019

It's time to better the odds for victims of sexual crime, Editorial: Stuff, 11.05.2019

Suppression in serial groping case lifts for Trembath after rape acquittal, RNZ, 09.05.2019