14 Dec 2015

Specialist sexual violence court proposed

8:59 pm on 14 December 2015

A specialist court should be set up and tested as a way to improve the handling of sexual violence cases, the Law Commission says.

National MP, Amy Adams.

Justice Minister Amy Adams said the government was considering the report's recommendations. Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

The commission today released its long-awaited review of sexual violence victims' experiences of the justice system. Read the report on the Law Commission's website (PDF, 2.2MB

It recommended establishing a specialist sexual violence court, and said all judges dealing with such cases should be accredited by having extra training.

The court could initially be set up as a two-year pilot project in one or more district courts, it said.

The report found waiting for a trial to occur after charges were laid and having to give evidence in court could delay a victim's recovery.

It recommended a limit on the time taken for cases involving sexual violence to get to trial, and giving complaints more opportunities to pre-record their evidence.

An alternative to going to court

The Law Commission also recommended making an alternative process available outside the criminal justice system, if that was what the victim wanted.

This would be a place where the victim could meet with the perpetrator, tell their story and seek redress.

It would only happen at the victim's request and would involve the perpetrator acknowledging the incident occurred.

If the process was completed, the perpetrator would not be able to be prosecuted for the same incident.

Cases involving weapons, or a risk to the community or another victim, would not be eligible.

In a separate recommendation, the report said an independent sexual violence commission should be set up to oversee victim support services, and carry out research and training.

Recommendations welcomed

Justice Minister Amy Adams said victims needed a more supportive process, and she was open to the idea of establishing a sexual violence court.

"This idea of a specialist court - you, know I take to mean a lot of things - but if it means a court that is better set up to consider the specialist characteristics of these sorts of cases, then that's probably a discussion worth having."

Ms Adams said she would work through the report before making any formal decisions.

Human Rights Commissioner Dr Jackie Blue also welcomed the report, and said many changes were needed around dealing with sexual violence victims.

"No question, judges need to be trained specifically in this. And if they have the power to manage that process so it's not as tough on that person giving evidence, so be it.

"Women aren't going to step up and want to give evidence if they know that they're going to be revictimised in court."

Ms Adams had asked the commission to resume work on the project in November 2014, after her predecessor Judith Collins put a halt to it in 2012.

She said at the time she would rule out reforms that would see the burden of proof fall on the defendant.