Making domestic violence a stand-alone criminal offence would be a more accurate gauge of its prevalence in New Zealand, Principal Family Court Judge Peter Boshier believes.

Judge Boshier has called it "untenable" that such a charge doesn't already exist, and said branding domestic violence in the same way as drink-driving or drug-manufacturing would allow courts to know the true nature of domestic violence and the extent of the problem.

"We all know that family violence is a huge problem, but we don't know just how much of a huge problem it is.

"If someone is charged with drink-driving you know what they've done. If it's assault, how do you know what they've done and whether it's family violence."


In his final speech before stepping down to begin a role with the Law Commission, Judge Boshier told the Women's Refuge conference in Blenheim last weekend that New Zealanders resorted to domestic violence too readily.

Judge Boshier has given four speeches to Women's Refuge, and said it was "poignant" for him to have his final speech at their annual conference before stepping down to start a new role.

He said his proposal to create a stand-alone law for domestic violence was just a small part of fronting up to the problem, and New Zealanders needed to look at their "tacit acceptance of family violence as less important than other forms of violence" and their willingness to resort to domestic violence so readily.

"Family violence has all sorts of risks that other forms of violence don't have. Nearly 50 per cent of homicides in this country have a genesis in family violence," said Judge Boshier.

He said a law change could result in an increase in the significance of family violence.

"Take wounding with intent for an example; it carries a higher penalty than assault. It could be coupled with a section which describes it as family violence."

Justice Minister Judith Collins said she would consider the options, but the justice work programme was already extensive.

"The immediate concern I would have would be in whether it would downgrade violence in a family to a lesser offence than the various charges relating to violence outside the home."

Ms Collins said New Zealand had come a long way since family violence was "glossed over as a matter for families".

The National Council of Women president Barbara Arnold raised the issue of a lack of ability to accurately report violence at the United Nations committee monitoring New Zealand's performance in relation to the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).

She welcomed a separate criminal charge for domestic violence.

Women's Refuge spokeswoman Kiri Hannifin said the level of domestic violence had been underestimated for too long.

A community group, the Ministry of Men's Affairs, were concerned over the proposal, saying Judge Boshier had sided with "feminist groups" during his tenure.

Spokesman for the group, Kerry Bevin claimed Judge Boshier and the Family Court had taken a lead in favouring female litigants and prioritising women's concerns more than the issues affecting women and children.