The Grace Millane murder trial has brought many aspects of our justice system once more into keen public focus.
This week, there have been understandable calls to remove the defence's ability to present evidence of a murder victim's sexual history. A bill before Parliament, currently at select committee stage, will tighten the rules around evidence about a complainant's sexual history, to better protect against unnecessary and distressing questioning, for victims of rape or sexual assault. This does not include the history of murder victims and will not include it, Justice Minister Andrew Little confirmed at the weekend.
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The Sexual Violence Legislation Bill amends the Evidence Act 2006, Victims' Rights Act 2002, and Criminal Procedure Act 2011 to reduce the retraumatisation victims of sexual violence may experience when they attend court and give evidence.
There have been many commendable changes in court procedure over recent years which have attended to the needs of victims or complainants. Children can be and often are protected by screens or video systems from having to confront in court those accused of molesting them; a defendant without counsel is prohibited from cross-examining a complainant.
With this trial completed and a jury passing a unanimous verdict, it is reasonable to now ask what the victim's history had to do with this man squeezing the life from her? In essence, his defence counsel saw something in it and the jury did not.
Perhaps it is a reflection of how we have matured as a nation that the jury - a peer representation of us - saw little relevance in what Grace may have or have not done in her recent life to bear any weighted relevance to the charge being presented to the court.
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It is right to focus on the rights of victims and their families - few were not moved by the plight of those close to Grace, particularly her parents. If law changes are necessary, they should be carefully considered and implemented but not by piecemeal amendments at the select committee stage of a bill which has already had its first reading before parliament.
Concern has also arisen over graphic details in the trial being aired. The NZ Herald has taken pains to properly cover this trial under the principles of open justice while balancing society's reasonable expectations of decency. This has been far from easy but few would seriously want a media to self-suppress what may make someone uncomfortable or for such a trial to be conducted behind closed doors.
In a nation which prides itself on fair and open justice, it is always timely to carefully consider whether we are getting it right or whether we could do better. In doing so at this time, we must acknowledge that a precious life has been taken by a heinous and inexcusable act.
Justice has been seen to be done. Rest in peace, Grace.