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Sexual violence trial reforms must strike the right balance, says Law Society

20 February 2020

The New Zealand Law Society says it supports efforts to reduce retraumatisation for sexual violence complainants, but proposed law changes need to strike the right balance between ensuring complainants are treated fairly and upholding the fundamental right to a fair trial.

The Law Society presented its submission on the Sexual Violence Legislation Bill to Parliament’s Justice select committee today and recommended some changes to the bill about the way complainants and witnesses give evidence in sexual violence trials.

“The Law Society supports efforts to ease the burden on vulnerable complainants of giving evidence but is concerned aspects of the bill erode fair trial rights,” Law Society spokesperson Chris Macklin says.

“It is essential this law change ensures all participants are treated fairly, so that justice is not only done but seen to be done and fundamental fair trial rights are upheld”, Mr Macklin says.

“The bill substantially changes the way sexual violence complainants and witnesses give evidence, including by allowing greater use of pre-recorded evidence and cross-examination. It attempts to strike an appropriate balance on difficult issues, but some of the reforms will cause serious difficulties in practice,” Mr Macklin says.

The Law Society believes changes to the bill are needed to ensure that pre-recording evidence does not erode defendants’ right to a fair hearing of the criminal charges against them.

“The Law Society is particularly concerned the reforms will place extra strain on the criminal justice system where resources are already stretched thin. All criminal practitioners – defence lawyers and prosecutors – we consulted expressed grave concerns about delays in trial courts and processes, and system-wide improvement is required before these reforms can feasibly be implemented,” Mr Macklin says.

The Law Society broadly supports the bill’s changes to the way victim impact statements are presented to the court and has recommended some amendments to support this.

The Law Society submission is available here.  The bill is available here.

Last updated on the 20th February 2020