More tracking of domestic violence offenders announced

By Derek Cheng

File photo / NZ Herald
File photo / NZ Herald

GPS-tracking devices would be extended to a greater number of domestic violence offenders as well as for victims, who may need to alert police in an emergency to their exact location, as part of a suite of Government measures announced today to tackle domestic violence.

The Government will also revisit an alleged offender's right to silence - an idea it shelved last term after stringent criticism from the lawyers and judges.

Prime Minister John Key announced the package of measures - costing $9.4m over four years - alongside Justice Minister Judith Collins and Police Minister Anne Tolley.

Mr Key said about half of all homicides and violent offences were related to domestic violence.

"On average, 14 women, seven men, and eight children are killed by a member of their family every year ... quite simply, the rate of family violence in New Zealand is unacceptable."

The package includes:

- A trial of 50 mobile safety alarms with GPS technology, so victims can alert police to their location in an emergency

- An extension of 24-hour GPS monitoring for high-risk domestic violence offenders

- A new role of Chief Victims Advisor to the Minister of Justice, ensuring victims' perspectives are considered in decisions

- A nationwide home safety service to help victims to leave a violent relationship, including safety planning, strengthening doors and windows, and installing alarms

- Intensive case management for the highest risk victims, including expert advice and a detailed safety plan

- Review of the Domestic Violence Act 1995

The Government will also explore whether a judge or jury should be able to draw an adverse inference if a defendant refuses to give evidence in sexual violence cases. The Government pushed for this in the previous term, but shelved the idea following strong resistance from the judiciary and legal profession, which viewed it as removing a defendants' right to silence.

Ms Collins said the measure in the UK had lead to more cases being heard.

"Sexual abuse and rape victims, they have to give evidence and they are cross-examined, and yet the defendant can sit there and say nothing. That is one of the reasons that so many choose not to give evidence or continue with the case."

Ms Collins said GPS alarms would help to "rebuild the faith in protection orders".

"As we know, they are a piece of paper ... and for someone who is determined to kill, they are not a great solution."

Around the clock GPS monitoring, including exclusion zones which raise the alarm if breached, is already in place for high risk child sex offenders and serious domestic violence offenders when they are released from prison.

Mrs Tolley said new legislation would open it to all domestic violence offenders serving a prison sentence or intensive supervision. It would be introduced with a high priority next term, if National won the election.

She said the mobile safety alarms for victims would allow them more freedom of movement.

"Should they need to contact police such as in an emergency situation, officers will immediately know not just that they're in trouble, but exactly where they are."

The Government will also look at a conviction disclosure scheme, which would allow people to know whether their partner has a history of domestic violence.

Ms Collins said she did not have a person in mind for the Chief Victims Adviser role, but it would need to be someone who has credibility with victims, and has great understanding of the justice system.

- NZ Herald

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