The Law Commission yesterday released its proposals for improving the way in which New Zealand deals with sexual violence. The 252-page report titled The justice response to victims of sexual violence: criminal trials and alternatives processes proposes two key changes:
• The piloting of a specialist sexual violence court.
• The creation of an alternative justice process for victims who do not wish to go through the criminal law system.
The commission suggests that a specialist sexual violence court with trained and accredited judges, prosecutors and defence lawyers should be trialled for two years in one or two locations. Consideration would then be given to making the courts permanent and extending their operation to the rest of the country.
The commission also recommends that every District and High Court judge sitting on sexual violence cases should have a designation to do so – meaning they would be required to complete a special training course. There are specialist sexual violence courts in nations such as South Africa and it is well past time for New Zealand to adopt such an initiative.
However, making the courts effective would require both extensive training for judges, the prosecution and defence lawyers; as well as funding to ensure that education is ongoing.
The training suggested by the commission for lawyers would not be adequate. Training for lawyers about sexual and domestic violence needs to start in law school, and should continue once lawyers are practising.
Without that, lawyers will continue to make use of the same rape myths which are currently preventing victims from obtaining justice. These include “She asked for it by wearing a short skirt or drinking alcohol or going out after dark”; and “She agreed to sex but regretted it next day so laid a complaint with police.”