The New Zealand Law Society has welcomed the government's review of family violence legislation and supports initiatives to address domestic violence, but believes the scope of the discussion should be broader to include analysis of all relevant laws.
In its submission on the Family Violence Review discussion document, released in August by Justice Minister Amy Adams, the Law Society says a more comprehensive and interdisciplinary review was preferable.
This would involve a review of the Domestic Violence Act 1995 and related legislation including the Care of Children Act 2004, Children, Young Persons, and Their Families Act 1989, Legal Services Act 2011, Victims' Orders Against Violent Offenders Act 2014, Criminal Procedure (Transfer of Information) Regulations 2013 and any other relevant regulations, to ensure consistency.
Further, the discussion document leaves the recent family justice reforms, eligibility for legal aid, Prosecution Guidelines and funding for support services outside the scope of review. The Law Society says that these aspects of the fight to reduce family violence are essential to any considered review of the legislation, and it is "unfortunate they have been excluded from the current review".
"In particular, eligibility for legal aid is outside the scope of review but is a significant barrier for many victims of domestic violence."
Overall, the Law Society considers that legislation already in place to protect victims of domestic violence is adequate, although amendments in some areas are recommended.
"The Law Society does not consider that creation of a standalone family violence offence, or class of family violence offences, as suggested in the discussion document, is necessary."
Victim safety could also be improved by better coordination of services and responses when complaints are laid, and increased information sharing between agencies.
One example of an improved response could involve implementing a policy of mandatory investigation by the Ministry of Social Development where there are more than two instances of domestic violence notified within six months.
"Any initiatives that will reduce the incidences of domestic violence and break the cycle of violence are welcomed," the Law Society says in the submission.
But while the Law Society recognises that amendments to laws can lead social change, it considers that the "high rate of domestic violence in New Zealand requires more than an improved legal response"."Ultimately it requires a shift away from a culture where domestic violence is tolerated."