Speedier trial for North sexual violence cases

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Chief District Court Judge Jan Marie-Doogue. PHOTO/FILE
Chief District Court Judge Jan Marie-Doogue. PHOTO/FILE

A third of jury trials in Whangarei are sexual violence cases, sparking a pilot scheme that should see them dealt with quicker.

Chief District Court Judge Jan-Marie Doogue said sexual violence cases represented 20 per cent of jury trial work nationally, but in Whangarei it was about 30 per cent.

Justice Minister Amy Adams announced yesterday that two dedicated sexual violence courts would be trialled in Whangarei and Auckland from December for speedier resolution of cases.

The court will cover serious sexual violence allegations, where the person charged denies the charges and elects a jury trial. The pilot will run for two-and-a-half years but Judge Doogue said it would be rolled out in other courts if the process achieved the desired results.

The Ministry of Justice confirmed there were currently 46 active cases before the District Court and the High Court in Whangarei.

They disposed off 46 sexual violence cases in 2014 and 32 last year.

Judge Doogue said like District Court judges throughout the country, resident judges in Whangarei have asked to be schooled in terms of dealing with cases of sexual violence and training would be held early next year.

The training is designed to educate them on matters including techniques for reducing trial delays before presiding over any trial in a sexual violence court.

Particular attention during training will be given to the barriers faced by complainants in reporting sexual violence cases and communications assistance and use of expert evidence to assist juries in sexual violence trials.

Offences to be tried under family violence courts include rape and other sexual violation, incest, sexual grooming, indecent assault, possession of publications that depict child exploitation, and intimate visual recordings made without consent.

The pilot does not extend to sexual violence related to murder or manslaughter offences.

Judge Doogue said it may be that sexual violence cases from Dargaville, Kaikohe and Kaitaia courts be transferred to Whangarei where the pilot would be based.

"The pilot is an example of District Court judges doing what we can where we can. All court participants can rest assured there will be no departure from Bill of Rights principles relating to a fair trial," she said.

The first cases could potentially come to trial by mid next year.

"Timeliness is clearly an issue. Research tells us that lengthy proceedings may delay recovery when people have to keep fresh in their minds over a long period past distressing experiences. The pilot will test steps to improve that," she said.

Whangarei defence lawyer Kelly Ellis said dedicated sexual violence courts would certainly help victims for whom quick disposition of cases was important.

Ms Ellis said she was astonished after moving up to Whangarei from Auckland more than five years ago just how many sexual violence cases came before Northland courts.

"Sexual violence cases can sometimes take years from the laying of charges to their disposition, including pre-trial arguments that can go to the Court of Appeal," she said.

"But there's always been a real incentive for courts to process such cases in a timely fashion."

The creation of dedicated sexual violence courts was part of recommendations in the Law Commission's 2015 report on how the justice system responded to victims of such cases.

- Northern Advocate

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