The New Zealand Law Society supports proposed law changes to improve the legislative response to family violence but says further protections for family violence victims need to be included.
The Law Society has presented its submission on the Family and Whānau Violence Legislation Bill to Parliament’s Justice and Electoral Committee, recommending changes to the bill.
Law Society spokesperson Paul von Dadelszen told the committee the bill needs to address some gaps in the existing legislative framework, to improve the protections available to victims of family violence.
“In particular, there need to be changes to the bill to provide protection for children affected by family violence. Where a child is involved in a family violence case in the Family Court, a lawyer should be appointed to represent them and the court should have access to psychological reports and the like, so that the court can understand and consider the child’s views,” Mr von Dadelszen says.
“That would be consistent with the bill’s principles requiring decision makers to recognise that children are particularly vulnerable to family violence, and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child for children’s views to be heard and considered,” he says.
The Law Society also recommends a clearer and simpler definition of ‘family violence’, including in relation to the concept of ‘coercive control’.
“The Law Society agrees with the concept of coercive control being included in the definition, but believes the current wording is likely to cause unhelpful legal arguments. The wording used in the Australian legislation – focusing on whether the behaviour has had the effect of coercing or controlling the victim – may be a better approach to take,” Mr von Dadelszen says.
Law Society spokesperson Katrine Evans says that effective information sharing is crucial to addressing the serious issue of family violence.
“There will be significant overlap between the bill’s family violence information sharing scheme and the vulnerable children information sharing scheme in the Children, Young Persons and Their Families (Oranga Tamariki) Legislation Bill currently before the House, and between the agencies delivering services under the two schemes.”
“The two bills take different approaches, which will create difficulties and confusion for agencies and families. The Law Society considers the approach taken in the family violence bill, with some amendments, is preferable and the Oranga Tamariki Bill information sharing provisions should be changed to align with it,” Ms Evans says.
The Law Society also noted that eligibility for legal aid is not addressed in the bill, which is concerning as it is a significant barrier for many victims of family violence seeking protection orders.