The Government is applauding the creation of specialised sexual violence courts which will bring serious rape and sexual assault cases to resolution more quickly.

But it says the new initiative by district court judges does not signal a broader move away from New Zealand's adversarial court system.

Chief District Court Judge Jan-Marie Doogue said today that two dedicated sexual violence courts will be trialled in Whangarei and Auckland.

The courts aimed to reduce trauma for victims, partly by reducing delays for sexual violence cases.

Advertisement

"Timeliness is clearly an issue," Doogue said.

"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."

Beginning next year, trial judges will receive additional training on the "unique dynamics" of sexual violence cases. Consideration will also be given to the communications assistance for victims and expert evidence for juries in sexual violence cases.

Justice Minister Amy Adams said she hoped the dedicated courts would reduce the barriers to reporting sexual violence.

"We have certainly seen indications of people saying that they would encourage women not to come forward because of the trauma of court processes - which I think is an awful situation.

"I would never want to tell people not to report sexual violence. But we do want to do all we can to make the court process as least traumatic as it can be."

Doogue said judges were exploring ways to improve processes within the current law. The dedicated courts would not depart from Bill of Rights principles such as the right to a fair trial, she said.

The judiciary said making the courts less adversarial would require a fundamental law change.

Adams said this was not being considered by the Government.

"I had a conversation with Judge Doogue about this yesterday. The law they're referring to is the Bill of Rights.

"So we're not talking about minor Evidence Act changes, they are talking about fundamental changes to what the definition of a fair trial is in the common law.

"So obviously that's a significant piece of work which requires a lot of consensus across Parliament."

The Government was instead looking at changes which could be made within the existing court framework.

"I don't think it's a straight choice between adversarial and inquisitorial," Adams said.

"It's a spectrum. And I think there's a lot more judges can do which we've seen indications of today."

The dedicated courts would be limited to the most serious sexual crimes, such as rape and indecent assault. The first cases are expected to be heard mid-2017.

Q&A


What are dedicated sexual violence courts?

• They are a new way of dealing with sexual violence cases within the existing District Court system.
• Judges will be specially trained to deal with sexual violence cases, and timeframes for resolving cases will be shorter.

Why are they being trialled in New Zealand?

• The judiciary are looking at ways to make the court system less traumatic for sexual violence victims.
• The new courts will reduce delays which create uncertainty for victims. They will also look at communications assistance for victims and expert evidence to assist juries.

What kind of cases will they deal with?

• The most serious sexual offending - rape, sexual violation, incest, sexual grooming, indecent assault, possession of child pornography and intimate visual recordings made without consent.
• Defendants who are charged with sexual and non-sexual crimes could also have their charges hard together within sexual violence courts.

WIll the courts be less adversarial?

• They do not depart from Bill of Rights principles, such as the right to a fair trial, the presumption of innocence, and the right to present a defence and examine witnesses.