17 Jun 2014

No shift of burden of proof - Govt

10:12 pm on 17 June 2014

The Government plans to release measures to combat family violence soon, but has already has ruled out shifting the burden of proof onto abusers to prove they are innocent.

The first report from Glenn Inquiry into family violence, published on Monday, criticises some courts, including the Family Court, and suggests a shift in the burden of proof.

The 'People's Report' said incidents of assault were not linked to prior or successive incidents of child abuse and domestic violence because of "alarming dysfunction" in the courts.

Judith Collins.

Judith Collins. Photo: RNZ / Diego Opatowski

The Government has been working on a changes which it will announce in a few weeks, but Justice Minister Judith Collins said changing burden of proof provisions was not one of them.

"When the state takes action against someone in a criminal matter it's a very serious situation. Our system works generally very well but the Family Court needed reform which is one of the reasons we have undertaken reform."

Otago University's Dean of Law Mark Henaghan, who researches family law, said the court system needed to be more open to sharing information.

Professor Henaghan told Radio New Zealand's Nine to Noon programme he agreed with the principle that courts should be able to access information, particularly when it could show that an accused had a history of similar convictions.

"My view is that privacy comes second to protecting people's lives and if you know the history of something then you're going to be much more concerned about how you go about protecting the person who is asking for the protection order. Not having that information gives you a whole different picture."

Earlier, former Principal Family Court judge Peter Boshier said the court system could and should do more for victims, particularly those of domestic violence.

He said the court system was a bruising place, but the rules the courts and judges work within were adversarial and until that changed it would continue to be a difficult place for victims.

Peter Boshier, now a law commissioner, said he was open to discussing the idea of tagging people issued with a protection order to make victims feel safer.

No to cross-party taskforce

The Government has dismissed the opposition's calls for a cross-party taskforce to tackle family violence, saying it would be all about politics in an election year.

The Glen Inquiry called for a national strategy, warning that violence is being bred into the next generation of children.

The Labour and Green parties want the Government to join them in developing a strategy to bring down rates of child abuse and domestic violence.

But Social Development Minister Paula Bennett shot the idea down on Tuesday, saying the election on 20 September is less than 100 days away and setting up a cross-party taskforce would simply all be about politics.

Sir Owen defends report

Sir Owen Glenn is inviting critics of the inquiry on child abuse and family violence he has funded to step up and become involved in the project

Campaigners against domestic and sexual violence say the first report lacks rigour and clarity.

Sir Owen Glenn.

Sir Owen Glenn. Photo: RNZ

The 'People's Report' includes the testimony of 500 survivors of abuse and violence, frontline workers, and offenders.

But a spokesperson for the Coalition for the Safety of Women and Children, Debbie Hager, said there was no rigour on how many people hold the same opinion on any one issue.

She said the voices of women and children were often combined so it was not clear who was telling their story.

A specialist in the study of men's violence against women and children, Neville Robertson of Waikato University, said the stories told are truncated so it would be easy to take them out of context.

Sir Owen Glenn told Morning Report that critics could join the inquiry to work towards some solutions.

He said the inquiry has asked all political parties to get involved, talk about the problems, and look at the next report in November, which would include international advice for solutions "that need to be thought through and applied."