Government announces sexual violence justice package of reforms
Thu 18 Jul 2019
Parliamentary Under-Secretary to the Minister of Justice Jan Logie has announced a package of reforms to improve the justice response for victims ...
Parliamentary Under-Secretary to the Minister of Justice Jan Logie has announced a package of reforms to improve the justice response for victims of sexual violence. This includes legislative changes to processes around evidence, specialist sexual violence training, updating the classification of sexual crimes, and a number of operational initiatives.
Improving the justice response to victims of sexual violence contains three documents which provide more detailed information about the package of reforms:
- Cabinet Paper
- Regulatory Impact Statement: Improving the justice response to victims of sexual violence
- Cabinet Minutes.
The Cabinet Paper outlines the package of reforms along with recommendations for further work to improve the justice systems for victims of sexual violence.
Package of reforms
The reforms include a number of legislative and operational recommendations. Parliamentary Under-Secretary Jan Logie announced the proposed legislative changes would include:
- "tightening the rules around evidence about a complainant’s sexual history, to better protect against unnecessary and distressing questioning
- ensuring specialist assistance is available for witnesses who need it to understand and answer questions
- giving sexual violence victims the right to choose how they give their evidence and undertake cross-examination – for example by audio-visual link or pre-recorded video
- recording evidence given at trial so it can be replayed at re-trial instead of having to be given again
- more protections for sexual violence victims giving their victim impact statements in court, and
- certainty for judges to intervene in unfair or inappropriate questioning, and to address common myths and misconceptions about sexual violence."
The Ministry of Justice noted in their news post that a select committee process will take place including public consultation. The Government hopes to pass the legislation this year.
The Operational Initiatives include:
- waiting until the sexual violence court pilot is completed before rolling it out nationally (see our previous story on the New sexual violence court process to be piloted in Whangarei and Auckland)
- new Solicitor-General Guidelines for Prosecuting Sexual Violence, published on 1 July 2019
- previously announced online guidance for victims of sexual violence
- consideration of rolling out nation-wide psycho-social support for complainants of sexual violence in the criminal justice system (see our previous story Pilots for support of sexual violence survivors in criminal justice system).
The package of reforms also includes plans to fund voluntary specialist training for defence lawyers on best practice in sexual violence cases and to update the classification of sexual crimes in the Crimes Act 1961.
Additional recommendations for long-term work programme
In the Cabinet Paper Jan Logie states:
"My proposed reforms make some important improvements that can be progressed this parliamentary term. I consider wider, significant questions remain about how the justice system deals with sexual violence and how responsive it is to victims' needs. Stakeholders working in the sexual violence sector who were consulted about these proposals generally agreed that more fundamental improvements may be needed."
Cabinet agreed to the Jan Logie's proposal for a longer-term work programme directed at more transformative change which would consider:
- further options to improve the trial process for victims
- alternative resolution processes outside the criminal justice system including kaupapa Māori models
- examining the definition of consent in sexual violation cases
- role of juries in sexual violence trials
- post-guilty plea specialist sexual violence court.
These changes are part of the Government's response to the Law Commission's review of the Evidence Act 2006, including specific examination of some areas in sexual and family violence. For more information about the review and recommendations see our previous news stories:
From "Real Rape" to Real Justice: Prosecuting Rape in New Zealand (Edited by McDonald and Tinsley, 2011)