Yesterday I wrote about our success in achieving long term, secure funding for sexual violence support services has succeeded in getting Parliament to hold an inquiry into this issue.
The second part of the solution to justice for victims of sexual violence – a stronger justice system – has not had such success yet. We know that our justice system doesn’t work for victims of sexual violence because over 90% do not lay complaints. Lawyers and police have repeatedly said that even they would not advise their families to try and get justice because the system is so harsh on victims of sexual violence. The system is so bad that only one in 100 cases of sexual violence result in a conviction.
After the Louise Nicholas case shocked New Zealand, the Government established a taskforce for action on sexual violence. While the Government, the community and sexual violence sector and legal fraternity put in a phenomenal amount of work to produce a behemoth of a report. There has been virtually no progress since the report was released in 2009.
Very few of their recommendations have been progressed but one considerable one was started; a Law Commission review of alternative pre-trial and trial processes to try and improve the conviction rate from its current abysmally low level of 1 conviction for every 100 sexual assaults.
Over 500 people provided feedback to this review. Many of us felt it was a once in a life time opportunity to help victims of violence get justice. Yet with no real reason given, the Minister of Justice Judith Collins took this work off the Law Commission’s agenda in September last year saying it wasn’t a priority. I have challenged her on this (three times) and her reply is to focus only on one of the many recommendations in that report by saying that the inquisitorial system is not appropriate for New Zealand, ignoring the fact the report considered many other options.
We know what the effective solutions to a better justice system are, the Law Commission has set them out, and we just need the Government to put them back on the table and consider them in their entirety.
The Minister has said this issue is important to her but she put a stop to the Law Commission’s report, the most substantive piece of work in this area that we have ever had. The Law commission said they are guided by the Ministers priorities but that some of the work would be covered by the review of the evidence act. But sadly the Minister restricted the review of the Evidence Act, a critical piece of legislation in this area, to a technical review rather than a comprehensive review that would address the real solutions.
The Minister has publically talked about all that’s been done to improve the system – the ability of children to provide video evidence and victim/survivors to give evidence behind a screen and the provision of Sexual Violence Victim advisors. This is true though she’s not responsible for the first two and the call was for the second two to be available whenever someone disclosed abuse – at the police station, or through ACC as an example and that these advisors be from the sector so we could be sure they had the skills and knowledge necessary to provide the necessary support. This didn’t happen.
The Minister has also mentioned the proposals she is taking to cabinet – but no one in the sector, none of the legal experts in this area have any idea what she’s planning.
So the two chances she had to make a real difference and deliver on decades of work were shut down. The solutions she is hiding behind amount to inadequate window dressing divorced from decades of work that has already been done in this area. This is not serving justice or fairness.
We can have a justice system where victims of sexual violence feel secure about laying a complaint and getting the justice they deserve, we just need action from this Government to get there.