Family Violence Death Review Committee new resources: info sheets and article on experts in court

Thu 10 Jun 2021

The Family Violence Death Review Committee has published new fact sheets and an article on family violence experts in courts.

Information sheets

The Family Violence Death Review Committee (FVDRC) is developing a series of brief information sheets. The info sheets have brief facts about information the FVDRC collects on family violence deaths in Aotearoa New Zealand. They are available in English, Te Reo Māori, Samoan, Tongan, Hindi and Simplified Chinese.

The first information sheets are on:

  • Intimate partner violence deaths in Aotearoa New Zealand
  • Child abuse and neglect deaths in Aotearoa New Zealand.

They are one-page documents that provide brief facts. For each one there is a one-page Supplementary detail that has background information about the facts.

The FVDRC is asking for feedback on the information sheets in a brief online survey. 

Article on family violence experts in courts 

Professor Mark Henaghan, FVDRC Deputy Chair Dr Jacqueline Short and FVDRC Senior Specialist Dr Pauline Gulliver have written an article on behalf of the Family Violence Death Review Committee focused on family violence experts in the criminal court. The article examines the potential for, and role of family violence experts in providing expert evidence in criminal court proceedings. 

The authors highlighted the need for family violence experts in criminal courts noting:

"Where there is increased complexity in the offending, there may be very little experience or expertise by the court decision maker and, therefore, a lack of awareness of the type of evidence or investigation necessary to understand the dynamics of the relationship."

They also comment that:

“If expert testimony on the dynamics of family violence is not available to the court, there is the potential for a miscarriage of justice. If incomplete information is available to examine, or discount, the potential for family violence (for example, Box 1), there is the potential for incorrect decision making.”

Benefits of court reports or expert witness testimony in cases of family violence included:

  • understanding and identification of the nature and dynamics of family violence including perpetrator behaviour and victim responses
  • addressing myths and misconceptions
  • understanding the limitations of the wider family violence system to provide safe responses
  • understanding the compounding impacts of structural inequalities.

Their research also identifies gaps and areas where work is needed to ensure quality, appropriateness and effectiveness of experts. While legislation exists that allows for expert evidence to be presented to the court, there are no guidelines for specialist family violence reports for the criminal court. Furthermore, the research highlights that guidelines for the Family Court

"...are limited in their applicability to family violence expertise. For example, while psychologists are required to show a general knowledge of family violence and how it impacts on children and adults, there is no detail concerning how this knowledge is assessed or whether it is kept up to date."

They write:

"In the United Kingdom, there are now established requirements that experts in family cases will have appropriate knowledge; be active in the area of practice or have sufficient experience of the issues; have relevant qualifications; have received appropriate training; and be compliant with safeguarding requirements."

The researchers have proposed “…a framework for establishing that a person can be considered a ‘family violence expert’ for the purposes of presenting to criminal cases” in appendix 1 of the article.

The authors also draw on the writings of Coates and Wade (2007) discussing the importance of language, noting that "providing evidence that describes the observed patterns of violence in an intimate relationship provides a more accurate analysis of the violence perpetrated as well as actions of resistance." There is a risk that an emphasis on 'objective' language and 'facts' can serve to further entrap victims while playing into the account of the perpetrator. "Indeed, ‘objective’ language can be minimising, mutualising and sanitising, obfuscating actual experiences of violence..." 

In addition, they briefly discuss the need for wider cultural considerations, including the need to understand the impacts of systemic entrapment for wāhine Māori and the importance of avoiding re-traumatisation that occurs when "using Western concepts to understand indigenous experiences." 

Areas where work is needed in relation to family violence experts include:

  • prosecution, defence lawyers and judges need adequate knowledge to recognise when family violence may exist and when to seek expert evidence 
  • the ability to assess and confirm individual expertise in family violence
  • ensuring experts keep up to date as evidence and understanding continue to evolve in family violence 
  • experts need to be adequately prepared including understanding court proceedings and ensuring their testimony is grounded in an established area of knowledge
  • consider use of an inquisitorial versus adversarial approach to family violence expert evidence.

The article Family violence experts in the criminal court: the need to fill the void is published in the April 2021 journal of Psychiatry, Psychology and Law. The authors drew on court cases from Aotearoa New Zealand, work of the FVDRC, policies and practices from other countries, and a review of literature.

See other resources from the FVDRC and related articles in the news stories below. Also search our library for items published by the Family Violence Death Review Committee.

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