‘Family and Whānau Violence’ bill introduced to parliament

By Leo Horgan

Legislation that overhauls the family violence system is a core part of reducing New Zealand’s horrendous rate of family violence, says Justice Minister Amy Adams.

The Family and Whānau Violence Legislation Bill was introduced to Parliament today to overhaul the Domestic Violence Act, amend five Acts and make consequential changes to over thirty pieces of law.

“It’s undeniable that one of the most concerning and most difficult social issues facing New Zealand is our unacceptably high rate of family violence. Part of this is the ingrained and insidious nature of the problem. But it’s also in the fact that there’s no easy or quick fix,” Ms Adams says.

“To properly tackle family violence we need to create an effective, integrated system for addressing it. We need a system that acts early to stop perpetrators hurting their families, protects victims, and breaks the cycle of re-offending.”

Aotearoa has the highest reported rate of intimate partner violence in the developed world.  Police respond to over 110,000 family violence incidents a year, yet an estimated 80 per cent of incidents are not reported to Police.

“The omnibus Family and Whānau Violence Bill is an important part of building a new way of dealing with family violence,” says Adams, “It implements our Safer Sooner reforms announced in September 2016 aimed at breaking the pattern of family violence and reducing the harm and cost inflicted on those who suffer violence and on the wider New Zealand society.”

Among other changes, the bill aims to support and protect victims to make them safer sooner than they are under the current laws.

To date, the onus has been on victims to take all the steps to make themselves safe and relied on going to court to get help – but the nature of family violence means this isn’t always realistic or effective.

It will be easier for victims to apply for protection orders and property orders, which will be made more responsive to their needs. Police and courts will be able to use these orders, and police safety orders, more effectively to protect victims.

The changes to legislation will cost approximately $132 million over the next four years.

Some key provisions of the bill include:

-Getting help to those in need without them necessarily having to go to court, ensuring all family violence is clearly identified and risk information is properly shared

-Putting the safety of victims at the heart of bail decisions.

-Creating three new offences of strangulation, coercion to marry and assault on a family member.

-Making it easier to apply for a Protection Order, allowing others to apply on a victim’s behalf, and better providing for the rights of children under Protection Orders.

-Making evidence gathering in family violence cases easier for Police and less traumatic for victims.

-Wider range of programmes able to be ordered when a Protection Order is imposed.

-Making offending while on a Protection Order a specific aggravating factor in sentencing.

-Supporting an effective system of information sharing across all those dealing with family violence.

-Enabling the setting of codes of practice across the sector.

A copy of the Bill is available at https://goo.gl/HSnwza