Recommendations for sexual offence trials not to be implemented: Judith Collins

Judith Collins has said recommendations made by the Law Commission for changes to trial processes in sexual offences will not be implemented.

The investigation of alternative court processes has involved research and consultation with politicians, judges, academics, police, prosecutors, defence counsel, sector workers and victim/survivor advocates over three years. The recommendations include that judges, prosecution and defence lawyers and jurors involved in sexual offence cases undergo specialist training, and for sexual offence cases to be heard more quickly. Some of the other recommendations draw on models from inquisitorial systems. More information is available here and here.

Interviewed on Radio New Zealand on Sunday (prior to the announcement), Victoria University Associate Professor of Law Elisabeth McDonald spoke about the reasons for the proposed changes, primarily reducing the distressing impact of prosecution on victim/survivors. She outlined what the proposed changes would mean.

It is estimated that 90% of sexual offences in New Zealand go unreported. Sexual assault victims are the least likely of victims to report to the Police. Of the offences that are reported, only approximately 8% result in a perpetrator being convicted [1]. Sexual violence, the most costly of all crimes per incident, is estimated to cost $1.2 billion each year [2]. 

In 2009, research was carried out for the Ministry of Women's Affairs in partnership with the Ministry of Justice and New Zealand Police. Key informants were asked if they would recommend a close friend or family member who was a victim of sexual violence go through the criminal justice system. 41% of Police and 61% of Crown Prosecutors said no or they didn't know. Comments included:

"I wouldn’t put myself through this and certainly would let a friend or family know how degrading it is and that they will be revictimised and the chances of a guilty verdict are very, very low." (Police)

"In my view the process for complainants in sexual violence cases is brutal, every aspect of the complainant’s character and conduct is questioned and exposed, and the likely outcome is not guilty." (Crown Prosecutor)

Read 'Collins rules out change to trials for child, sex victims', NZ Herald, 24/9/12

Listen to Judith Collins answer questions in Parliament here.

Listen to the interview with Elisabeth McDonald, Radio NZ, 23/9/12

Read 'Responding to Sexual Violence: Environmental scan of New Zealand agencies' (2009) here.

Watch Louise Nicholas speaking in favour of the Law Commission's recommendations here.

Endnotes:

[2] Snively, S, (1994) The New Zealand economic cost of family violence. Wellington: Department of Social Welfare.

Roper, T and Thompson, A, (2006) Estimating the costs of crime in New Zealand in 2003/04. Wellington: New Zealand Treasury