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April 16, 2018 | by  | in News Splash |
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Sexual Violence Court Pilot

A new study backed by the Law Foundation is set to assess whether the new processes being trialled in the sexual violence court pilot are making it less traumatising for complainants to give evidence.

The sexual violence court is a list of cases within the district court that covers serious sexual violence allegations where the defendant denies the charges and elects a jury trial. The sexual violence court is not a separate court to the district court, rather it involves using different processes for dealing with sexual violence cases.

The study is set to review at least 10 cases from the pilot courts. The study will compare procedures used in adult acquaintance rape cases in the pilot courts, with a group of similar cases in non-specialist courts.

The sexual violence court differs from other courts as judges take a more intensive and proactive role. Judges receive specialist training in sexual violence offending, which includes further educating judges on the barriers sexual violence complainants face in reporting sexual violence.

The aim of the pilot is to reduce case processing time and reforming the process of sexual violence cases.  This process reform includes giving judges more control over the cross-examination process without completely moving to an inquisitorial model.

Chief District Judge Jan-Marie Doogue said in a recent radio interview that the processing times in the pilot courts has halved, from 18-24 months to nine months. She added she believed lawyers were treating complainants more respectfully in the pilot courts, while still robustly defending their clients.

In the Auckland and Whangarei district courts, the pilot is now entering its second year. If the two-year pilot is successful, the specialist courts are likely to be rolled out across the country.

A specialist sexual violence court was one of the recommendations made by the Law Commission in the 2015 report on the judicial responses to sexual violence. The Law Commission report also recommended offering alternative, less traumatic ways for complainants to give evidence and cross examine it, and acknowledged the significant under-reporting of sexual violence.

Judge Doogie has previously said that these other recommendations could not be included in the pilot, as they require law changes to be able to be implemented.  She said this is up to parliamentarians to change. So far, no Government action has been taken.

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