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Changes in the Sexual Violence Justice Response

Parliamentary Undersecretary for Sexual and Family Violence, Jan Logie yesterday afternoon announced some excellent changes in the Sexual Violence Justice area. TOAH-NNEST has long lobbied for desperately needed justice reform. Presently around 1% of adult sexual violence crime results in a conviction. The judicial process can be traumatising in itself and it is little wonder that few victims seek legal redress. Ms Logie spoke of reform that would result in there being no more harm resulting for victims, to compound their sexual violence experience. She believes it is possible to prevent further traumatisation and still have a robust justice system where accused people get a fair trial.

Complainants in future will be given a right to choose the mode of evidence they will use (pre-recording or in person). This changes the status quo where an application to give evidence by an alternative mode must go to the Judge. There will be strict criteria about the creation of those alternative methods of evidence. Complainants may not have to attend court at all which could prevent some of the emotional challenge of seeing their accused at court. Healing can then take precedence in the judicial process. Court cases will also be recorded so that in the case of a retrial, there is no requirement to start from scratch. There will also be changes in the ability of Defence Lawyers to ask sexual history questions about complainants, except in exceptional circumstances when it is essential for fairness. The reforms will see the universal addition of communication assistants for all witnesses to help them better navigate the court process. There will also be new training for judges and defence lawyers and judges will be required to step in if inappropriate questioning occurs in their courtroom. Questions must be relevant, respectful and fair. The reforms guarantee the right to appropriate court facilities for complainants (such as separate waiting spaces, toilets and refreshments) and the reforms also plan to make it easier for complainants to give Victim Impact Statements which can be very exposing at present.

Joy Te Wiata from TOAH-NNEST’s Ngā Kaitiaki Mauri was encouraged to hear that Kaupapa Māori models of justice are to be explored in more depth. The Tauiwi Chairperson, Maggy Tāi Rakena applauds these changes which respond extremely well to matters raised by their national advocacy organisation over many years. Ms Logie was clear that these reforms are just the start and as more resources become available more will reform follow.

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