Collins cool on sex crime court reform

By Derek Cheng

Justice Minister Judith Collins. Photo / APN
Justice Minister Judith Collins. Photo / APN

Justice Minister Judith Collins looks set to shelve reforms set in motion by her predecessor Simon Power, including moves to an inquisitorial system for victims of sexual crimes.

But she is still pushing for an overhaul of the Family Court, indicating changes to the counselling and mediation model and making it easier for judges to throw out vexatious claims and prevent lawyers from repeatedly lodging applications.

Mr Power, from the liberal side of the National caucus, was an enthusiastic supporter of the inquisitorial model, visiting courts in Europe where it is practised and ordering a Law Commission investigation into alternative trial processes.

The model could see judges question victims of sex crimes, and the verdict could rest in the hands of a judge, or a panel of a judge and specially trained jurors.

Ms Collins, considered more hard-line than her predecessor, said she was open to the commission's findings, but merging the approaches in a criminal court was "fraught with difficulties".

"Taking work away from juries and putting it into panels is a totally different system to what we have."

It could take the role of prosecuting and investigating out of the hands of police, she said.

Another issue was how such a system dealt with concurrent charges.

"If you had courts specifically for rape cases, what if there is also a kidnapping charge as well? Is that included? It's very difficult. Judges are saying to me, 'how would that work?', and I'm saying, 'I'm not sure'."

Ms Collins is awaiting a report from the Family Court consultation process in the coming months, but said the court was often swamped with vexatious claims.

"There is a lot that goes into the court that should never be there. A lot of what they deal with ... is families charging into court over who Johnny is spending Christmas with this year.

"The vast majority of parents sort that out themselves without rancour or charging into court at not only vast expense to the taxpayer, but ... vast distress to their children."

Parties often lodged repeat court applications over matters that had nothing to do with the law, and she said judges should be able to dismiss such claims easily.

She said the mediation and counselling model, set up to resolve issues before they came to court, could be more effective.

- NZ Herald

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