New figures show a sharp increase in the number of violent offenders escaping without criminal conviction.

Information from the Justice Ministry and Statistics New Zealand reveal the number of violent offenders being discharged without conviction has tripled over the past 15 years to more than 1400 a year.

Violent offending increased by a third over the same period.

The trend was revealed as a high-profile rugby player this week made a bid to avoid conviction for choking and punching his pregnant partner.

Taranaki player Paul Perez, 23, was this week found guilty in the New Plymouth District Court of three charges of domestic violence against his pregnant partner.

He was ordered to pay $2029 in reparation and go to an anger management course.

Perez is expected to seek a discharge without conviction when he appears for sentencing on December 3, because a criminal record may damage his playing career. Police plan to oppose the application.

Spokeswoman for anti-violence group Shine, Jane Drumm, said assaulting a pregnant woman was "very high-risk" offending, and a discharge without conviction sent the wrong message.

Drumm said too many sportspeople escaped conviction and called for more leadership from sports clubs.

"They need to know that it's a privilege for them to represent their country or province, and if they assault people, they're making a decision to risk that," she said.

The Taranaki Rugby Union did not return calls.

The rise in discharge without conviction was not a surprise, Drumm said. First-time family violence offenders were routinely discharged without conviction, and some escaped penalty more than once.

"I think that the bare minimum should be a conviction. When someone has been harmed the major thing the court system has to do is say: 'What you've done is not acceptable'."

Wellington barrister Robert Lithgow said the rise came from police putting more trivial matters before the court, which didn't justify the stigma of a conviction. "The courts are saying this is out of all proportion."

Former Auckland District Law Society head, barrister Gary Gotleib, said a "reasonable percentage" of domestic violence cases were resolved by discharge without conviction.

He said victims often advocate for counselling, or told the court the offender had changed as a result of attending a course.

"It's not a total watershed, it's just a pragmatic and sensible way of delivering justice," he said.

"I encourage it and I support it, because in the end both parties are happy with it."

Other lawyers were surprised by the figures, particularly given strong public feeling towards violent crime.

Law Society criminal law committee convenor Jonathan Krebbs said it wasn't easy to persuade a judge to discharge: "There are a lot of hoops you have to jump through."

Under the Sentencing Act 2002, an offender can be discharged if the consequences of conviction would be out of proportion to the gravity of the offence.

Police weren't aware of any reason for the increase.

Justice Minister Simon Power said sentencing was a matter for the courts, but he was aware of public feeling, and was moving quickly on issues of sentencing, bail, and domestic violence.

444:

The number of violent offenders discharged without conviction in 1994; just over 3 per cent of all violent offenders.

1429:

The violent offenders discharged with conviction in 2008, more than 8 per cent of violent offenders.

ROLL OF SHAME
October, 2009: A prominent Nelson man is discharged and granted name suppression after pleading guilty to assaulting his teenage daughter. The court heard he pushed the girl down and kicked her in the back several times. October, 2008: A man with a history of family violence is given his "last chance," and granted name suppression and discharged without conviction for punching his wife.

June, 2007: Phillip Rudd, drummer from AC/DC, is discharged without conviction after assaulting his former partner in Mount Maunganui.

April, 2007: All Black Sitiveni Sivivatu is discharged after slapping his wife. He was made to pay $1000 to charity and court costs.

February, 2005: An All Black who pleads guilty to assaulting his wife is given name suppression and discharged.