Domestic violence scheme for Masterton

By Alisa Yong alisa.yong@age.co.nz -
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Judges will get a report on family violence bail applications, previous police family violence call-outs, police safety orders, protection orders and bail history under the new scheme.  PHOTO/FILE
Judges will get a report on family violence bail applications, previous police family violence call-outs, police safety orders, protection orders and bail history under the new scheme. PHOTO/FILE

A PILOT scheme to give judges more information when granting bail in domestic violence cases is being welcomed by agencies dealing with family violence in Wairarapa.

Under the pilot, judges will receive a summary report for every family violence bail application, including previous family violence call-outs to police, police safety orders, protection orders and bail history of the applicant.

From this month, Masterton, Wellington, Hutt Valley, Whangarei, Kaikohe and Kaitaia district courts will begin a six-month trial of the scheme, which has been running in Porirua and Christchurch since last year.

Wairarapa Women's Refuge manager Lyn Buckley said she hoped the pilot would make it harder for offenders to get bail or be bailed to their home.

"It's a good thing because quite often they are sent home and they shouldn't be, and they put people at more risk.

"You wouldn't think it would happen but it does."

Stopping Violence Services Wairarapa manager Jeremy Logan said he supported anything that helped judges make an informed decision.

"Often what happens is that we tend to be looking at the incident in court as one incident, and the judge is not able to see that there are many other occurrences, which paints a picture of concern.

"This will give the judge a better and bigger picture to support their decision-making.

"It's one positive step that can be taken. It's not going to fix everything but it is one step in the right direction."

Violence Free Network co-ordinator Gerry Brooking said the information would be useful as offenders often came to the attention of police several times before being charged.

"As much information as the judge can have in deciding bail applications gives the judge a better picture of the offending or the chances of not appearing or breaching bail."

But lawyer Jock Blathwayt said alleged offenders should be allowed to check the information being presented to the judge.

"From the client's point of view, it brings into play what might ultimately be gossip," said Mr Blathwayt.

"I think it is a bad thing unless the client has the ability to check in advance the information that is in the reports.

"In my view, it will in general make it more difficult for a person to get bail."

Lawyer James Elliott said he welcomed the availability of more information, as long as it was accurate.

"It's a more holistic approach, just attempting to gather all that information so that judges can make a more balanced decision on bail, and it recognises that the safety of the victim, even if it's an alleged victim, will be paramount," he said.

"The reservation we have is the accuracy of the information -- that will be tested as it rolls out."

Minister of Corrections and Police Judith Collins said the additional information had been requested by the judiciary.

"Family violence is a complex crime and it is vital that judges and registrars are provided with timely and complete information when making bail decisions in order to assess the cumulative pattern of harm in each case," Ms Collins said.

"Almost half of all serious assaults and homicides in New Zealand are related to family violence and it is imperative that we do all we can to keep victims safe.

"Extending the pilot will provide more information so we can make sure the process works as well as possible, and understand how it affects workloads and remand prisoner numbers."

In the Masterton District Court last year there were a total of 138 convicted charges for offences specific to family violence, up from 126 in 2014.

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