3 Jul 2014

Criticism of family violence package

5:59 am on 3 July 2014

Lawyers and welfare advocates say they have fundamental doubts about measures announced by the Government aimed at reducing family violence.

A special adviser on victims' rights will be appointed, and legislation changed so more violent offenders are monitored by GPS technology.

Another of the proposals would affect the right of defendants to decline to give evidence during their trial.

The Government has said it will explore whether prosecutors should be allowed to make adverse comments to a judge or jury if a defendant refuses to give evidence in sexual violence cases.

The convenor of the Law Society's criminal law committee, Jonathan Krebs, said that threatened an accused person's right to silence - a fundamental right enshrined in the Bill of Rights and international covenants.

"To suddenly start suggesting in any case involving sexual violence, that any person's silence should be held against them, is just quite wrong."

Mr Krebs said if the idea progressed beyond discussion phase, the Law Society would have a lot to say about it.

"The right to silence is often called the Golden Thread which runs through our criminal justice system, and it's something that all western countries have - we guard that jealously."

Justice Minister Judith Collins told Parliament limiting the right to silence had worked in the UK.

GPS for violent domestic offenders

The Government is also planning a two-year trial in which 50 victims will be given GPS mobile alarms, so they can alert police to their location in an emergency.

It will review the Domestic Violence Act and will appoint a Chief Victims Adviser to the Ministry of Justice.

Labour Party justice spokesperson Andrew Little said the ideas would not help curb domestic violence.

Mr Little said adding another adviser is putting the resources in the wrong places.

"Every victim of serious crime I've spoken to says what they most need is help down at the ground level, navigating the justice system and their role in it, given they've never chosen to be there," he said.

Women's Refuge chief executive Heather Henare said her organisation was concerned it was not consulted by the Government about the package.

Ms Henare said the plans would not reach the 80 percent of the victims who do not approach police, and there are more efficient actions the Government could take.

Ms Collins said officials will keep on working on details of the proposals and more information will become available in the coming year.