6 Mar 2017

Overhaul of domestic violence laws on the way

7:02 am on 6 March 2017

The government plans to unveil sweeping changes to the country's domestic violence laws in the next few weeks.

29062016 Photo RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King. Amy Adams, Minister of Justice.

Amy Adams (file). Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King;

A new group, the Backbone Collective, says courts are failing to protect women and failing to hold abusers accountable, and the system's response for women who have experienced violence and abuse is broken and dysfunctional.

The collective wants to hear from abused women so it can change the way the justice system deals with violence against them.

Women's Refuge chief executive Ang Jury applauded the collective's aims.

"The more stories we have from women who are interacting with the system, the better. Things can't be fixed unless unless we actually do hear and provide the evidence that things do actually need fixing."

But she said changes were under way, including an overhaul of legislation and the way the police handled cases. Police were training officers "to try and shift some of those responses that they know to be inappropriate and wrong."

University of Otago dean of law, Professor Mark Henaghan, said it was a sad fact that people were still being killed in their homes and children were being abused, but to describe the system as broken was a step too far.

Courts, judges and police took domestic violence seriously and court orders could be granted quickly. "Throughout all the legislation it's the highest principal, people must be safe, that's what the law requires," he said.

New Zealand has the highest rates of violence against women in the western world, costing the country an estimated $7 billion a year.

Justice Minister Amy Adams acknowledged the country's poor record on family violence, but said the government was making improvements across the entire system for dealing with it.

She expected to table new legislation in parliament in the next couple of weeks.

The government had sought views across the entire sector. "We've also been working on court processes, the way we support victims through the system, the way the judiciary gets information to support what they do."

But legislation was only part of the solution, she said. "[Domestic violence] will stop when men and when perpetrators stop thinking it's okay to abuse family members. And the government and the court system are part of that response, but fundamentally it's about the attitudes we have as New Zealanders to each other."

Professor Henaghan said it was a much bigger problem than just the courts.

"We've got to look at better ways to get people changing their attitudes towards their partners so they don't use violence as a way of resolving their disputes.

"The courts aren't really resourced to do that. I think we've got to look at those sorts of avenues as well, and resource organisations that work to try and support people and change men's attitudes who do resort to violence."

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