Information-sharing push for cases of domestic violence

Justice Minister Amy Adams says privacy laws significantly hamper the ability to detect and deal with domestic violence because government officials and those working with children and families are often over-cautious when it comes to sharing information.

Edward Livingstone.
Edward Livingstone.

Ms Adams will today release a discussion document with proposals to tackle domestic violence which is understood to contain more provisions for sharing information between the courts, police and the agencies and community organisations which deal with families.

Ms Adams told the Herald the Privacy Act affected the ability to pick up on family violence.

She pointed to the coroner's rulings on Edward Livingstone's murder of his two children before killing himself last year. "Coroner [Deborah] Marshall made the point quite strongly that one of the significant failings in hindsight was the lack of information-sharing between people who had interacted with the family. Now I think the need to do that has been raised loudly and clearly."


Ms Adams said a fear of breaching the Privacy Act resulted in over-caution among government officials and people working with children and families such as school counsellors. "There is a high level of misunderstanding and almost catatonia about sharing information.

"The incentives are all about the trouble you'll be in if you share when you shouldn't have, but there's nothing counterbalancing that.

"There's no trouble if you don't share - except somebody might die."

She believed the problems were both with that lack of understanding and the threshold for disclosure, which required a serious threat. Often it was only when pieces of lower-level information were combined that the threat became clear.

Privacy law specialist Kathryn Dalziel agreed there was a high level of misunderstanding about the act and there should be no excuses for it, especially among government departments. The Government had set up a Privacy Officer, whose role was to assist with understanding, as well as the Privacy Commissioner.

Ms Adams said governments had tried to fix high family violence rates for 45 years without success. She hoped the new document would result in some solutions.

"I'm ... signalling that I have no doubt there will need to be considerable change in how government thinks about and delivers its family violence services."

But society had a role as well. "There are communities and areas in NZ where violence is a way of life ... they don't think of it as something they shouldn't have to accept."

Ms Adams has also asked the Law Commission to look at the law on non-fatal strangulation and cases where a victim of ongoing abuse kills their abuser.

She has also restarted the commission's work on moving to a more inquisitorial system.

Steps to safety

Measures taken to help reduce domestic violence

• Discussion document to overhaul domestic violence law - due today.
• Increased penalties for breaches of protection orders.
• National rollout of Home Safety Service programme to fit good locks and security systems in homes of abused families.
• Appointing Chief Victims' Adviser (under way).

To come

• Allow police to proactively disclose to people if their partner has a history of abuse.
• GPS alarms for abused partners to carry with them in case their abuser contacts them outside the home.
• GPS tracking of abusers.
• Measures to target gang families.
• Law Commission reports on non-fatal strangulation and victims of ongoing abuse who commit homicide (such as the Gay Oakes case).
• Law Commission report on inquisitorial system for sexual abuse/children's cases.