New Zealand Law Society - Support for new strangulation offence

Support for new strangulation offence

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The Law Commission has recommended creation of an offence whereby a person who strangles or suffocates another person is liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding seven years.

In its report, Strangulation: The case for a new offence, the Law Commission makes seven recommendations to improve the way that the criminal justice system responds to strangulation in family violence circumstances.

Strangulation is a common and particularly harmful form of family violence.  A victim of family violence who is strangled has a much greater risk of a future fatal attack by the perpetrator than a victim who was not strangled.

The Law Commission says it has found that the risks following strangulation are not well understood by police, judges and others who assist victims of family violence.  This puts the victims at risk of further violence, including a fatal attack.

"In at least half of all cases, strangulation does not result in an obvious external injury, even though the victim may have suffered internal injuries or serious mental harm. The lack of obvious external injuries makes it difficult to lay serious charges against the perpetrator.  

"The Law Commission found that in these cases, the abusers are often charged with a low level offence.  This means that the perpetrators of strangulation are often getting a much lower sentence than they deserve."

Recommending amendment of Part 8 of the Crimes Act 1961 to create a new offence of strangulation, the Law Commission says that offence should require proof of strangulation, but not proof of injury.

In the offence, "strangles or suffocates" should mean impedes normal breathing or circulation of the blood by intentionally applying force on the neck or by other means.

In another recommendation, the report says if a person pleads guilty or is found guilty of the strangulation offence, and the court is satisfied that the offence was a family violence offence, the court must direct that the offence be recorded on the person's criminal record as a family violence offence.

Section 9 of the Sentencing Act 2002 would also be amended to include strangulation as an aggravating factor that must be taken into account in sentencing.

Commenting on release of the report, Justice Minister Amy Adams says she welcomes the recommendations, which fit well with the Government's review of family violence laws.

"Creating a specific strangulation offence would bring New Zealand in line with international laws and practices. For example, the United Kingdom and three quarters of states in the United States have offences relating to strangulation," she says.

"Over the next few weeks, I'll be taking a close look at the Law Commission's report before taking recommendations to Cabinet. This work will sit alongside our comprehensive review of family violence laws, which explores a range of new family violence offences."

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