A Bill to improve the court system’s response to sexual violence has passed its first reading in Parliament today.
Justice Minister Andrew Little says the Sexual Violence Legislation Bill will reduce the trauma sexual violence complainants experience in court, while maintaining defendants’ fundamental rights and making sure the trial process remains fair.
“This Bill is part of the Government’s commitment to address, and ultimately eliminate, family and sexual violence in Aotearoa,” Andrew Little says.
“In their interim report He Waka Roimata, the criminal justice advisory group Te Uepū Hāpai I te Ora talks of victims feeling failed by justice processes. This needs to change. The Sexual Violence Legislation Bill will go a long way in improving the justice system for all New Zealanders,” says Andrew Little.
Most of the amendments are to the Evidence Act 2006, which governs what, and how, evidence may be presented in court. It also makes changes to the Victims’ Rights Act 2002 and the Criminal Procedure Act 2011.
“These changes will help to lessen the unacceptable secondary harm that victims/survivors of sexual violence may experience within the justice system,” Parliamentary Under-Secretary to the Minister of Justice (Domestic and Sexual Violence Issues) Jan Logie says.
“We need to ensure that when victims/survivors reach out, our justice system’s response does no more harm,”
““These changes are critical to reducing the trauma that contributes to our low prosecution and conviction rates for sexual violence, which the Ministry of Justice recently published research on,” says Jan Logie.
Key changes in the Bill will:
- Tighten rules around evidence regarding a complainant’s sex life, to ensure they are protected from irrelevant and unduly invasive questioning
- Entitle complainants in sexual cases to give their evidence in alternative ways, including by recording both their evidence-in-chief and cross-examination before the trial, to shield them from some of the more traumatic elements of the process.
- Require judges to intervene in inappropriate questioning, and to address common myths and misconceptions about sexual violence when they are relevant to the case
- Extend the availability of communication assistance to any witness who needs it to understand questions or give evidence.
The 2014 New Zealand Crime and Safety Survey indicated that 15 percent of New Zealanders have experienced sexual violence in their lifetimes. Research indicates sexual offending is subject to low rates of reporting to police and a high ‘attrition’ rate, where reporting does not result in a conviction.
The Bill responds to some of the Law Commission’s recommendations in its 2015 and 2019 reports The Justice Response to Victims of Sexual Violence and The Second Review of the Evidence Act.
The recent Ministry of Justice report Attrition and Progression: Reported Sexual Violence Victimisations in the Criminal Justice System can be found here: