Monday, July 15, 2024

New justice Bill aims to better protect victims

The Government is set to deliver the next step in its pledge to improve the experience of victims in New Zealand’s justice system, Justice Minister, Ginny Andersen said today.

The Victims of Sexual Violence (Strengthening Legal Protections) Legislation Bill will be introduced in Parliament later today.

Minister Andersen said the Bill will address known issues in the justice system by reducing the risk of child victims of sexual violence being questioned about consent while in court. It will also give adult victims of sexual violence more say over their automatic name suppression.

“The Government has delivered on its promise to improve victims’ experiences. Despite past attempts to do this victims still often feel unsafe, retraumatised and like their voices are not being listened to. These changes will make a real difference,” she said.

“Child victims of sexual violence can be further traumatised when giving evidence at trial. Being asked if they wanted or even enjoyed the sexual activity is damaging and just plain wrong. We are amending the law to ensure that the question of consent is not relevant when a child takes the stand.

“We are also increasing the maximum penalty for the offence of sexual connection with a child to 20 years’ imprisonment so that it aligns with that of sexual violation.”

The Bill also strengthens automatic name suppression settings, the Minister said.

“The settings are there to protect victims’ privacy, but not everyone wants or needs protection in this way. It’s important that victims have the right to speak out about their experiences, should they choose to. These changes mean that our justice system will support that choice.”

Three new pilot programmes announced in April, which address known gaps in the justice system for victims, are now also underway.

“This will contribute to reducing harm for some of our most vulnerable people. We also want to improve the way Justice sector agencies interact with victims,” said Ms Andersen.

One pilot ensures that victims’ views are heard when bail decisions are being considered for a defendant and another focuses on improving the experiences of child witnesses in sexual violence cases and provides specialist training for staff supporting them. The third is focusing on improving safety planning and coordination for victims of serious crime.

The pilots will run for a year, with a final evaluation in July 2024.

“By focusing on the areas that victims themselves have told us are not working, these pilots can make a real difference on the ground right now and inform a more victim-focused justice system in the long-term,” Minister Andersen said.

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