Police have confirmed they are "reviewing" a decision by a South Island judge to discharge a man without conviction after he violently assaulted his wife.

The man was sentenced in the Queenstown District Court on Monday on charges of assaulting his wife, his children and a male friend.

The charges came after the 58-year-old saw a text message between his wife and his mate, declaring their love for each other.

The court heard that after spying the text, the man assaulted the friend and a struggle ensued.

When his daughter tried to separate the pair, the man grabbed her by the throat, pushed her down and held her there.

Advertisement

Then his wife intervened and he kicked her in the ribs, causing her to fall backwards.

Judge John Brandts-Giesen said the 58-year-old did not remember hurting his wife or daughter.

It was his first time before the courts.

The judge discharged the man without conviction, saying the incident was a "nasty assault" but had to be seen in context.

"Really, this is a situation that does your wife no credit and does the [male] no credit,"
Judge Brandts-Giesen told the man.

"There would be many people who would have done exactly what you did, even though it may be against the law to do so.

"I consider that the consequences of a conviction are out of all proportion to what happened on this occasion."

New Zealand has the worst rate of family violence in the developed world, and in recent years the police have ramped up efforts to reduce and prevent incidents - and to raise awareness and encourage victims to report incidents.

The Herald asked police if Judge Brandts-Giesen's comments contravened their message.
Otago Lakes Central Area Commander Inspector Olaf Jensen could not comment specifically on the case.

Advertisement

However, he confirmed that police were looking closely at the sentencing decision.

"We are reviewing the decision, but at this stage aren't in a position to comment further," he said.

Auckland barrister and spokeswoman for the Auckland Coalition for the Safety of Women and Children Catriona MacLennan said called for Judge Brandts-Giesen to step down from his role.

""It is inappropriate for Judge Brandts-Giesen to continue sitting on the bench," she told the Herald.

"His reported comments and the sentence imposed display a complete lack of understanding of domestic violence.

"He victim blames and minimises assaults on three people."

Catriona MacLennan. Herald on Sunday Photograph by Doug Sherring
Catriona MacLennan. Herald on Sunday Photograph by Doug Sherring

MacLennan said Judge Brandts-Giesen's comments during sentencing were "abhorrent".

"It is the role of the judiciary to uphold the law and foster respect for the law," she said.

"Stating that 'many people would have done exactly what you did' condones and excuses domestic violence."

MacLennan references comments by Chief District Court Judge Jan-Marie Doogue in March last year.

"Genuine potential exists for the courts to be a 'circuit breaker' for families trapped by violence," Judge Doogue said.

"Judges of the District Court are willing to play our part."

MacLennan said Judge Brandts-Giesen's comments and sentence in this case "run completely contrary" to Judge Doogue's statement.

"They also demonstrate that judges need far more education about domestic violence.

"The education provided to date has plainly been inadequate.

"The police should appeal the discharge without conviction. It is inappropriate and out of line with penalties in similar cases.

"Judicial attitudes like this and the lack of penalty are part of the reason why women do not come forward to report domestic violence."

Victim advocate Ruth Money was also appalled by the judge's comments.

"It is a complete disgrace," she said.

"It is no wonder New Zealand has the domestic violence issue it does when judges sentence like this.

"I beg the police on behalf of New Zealand to appeal."

Ruth Money, victim advocate. New Zealand Herald photograph
Ruth Money, victim advocate. New Zealand Herald photograph

Money, who has worked alongside numerous victims of family harm through police disclosure and the court process, said regardless of the sentence handed down Judge Brandts-Giesen's comments were disappointing and harmful.

"Judges should denounce behaviour and this does the complete opposite," she said.

"It is of grave concern that this now sets a precedent for others to bash their fellow humans and walk away with no consequences."

Anti-family violence charity Shine said the decision "normalised" harmful behaviour.

"We are appalled and disgusted at this," said communications manager Holly Carrington.

"A survivor of domestic violence rang to tell us that her abusive ex had messaged her with the link to this article - as if to justify his behaviour.

"This is the kind of statement - from people in positions of power - that normalises, justifies and underpins violence.

"Using violence to express anger is never ok - and just because it's done by many people does not make it ok."

In New Zealand, judges do not have explain or justify their decisions.

Every judge is independent and their decisions "must not be influenced by anything other than the law and the arguments presented in court".

In addition, New Zealand's laws and constitution provide judges with some protections - ensuring that they cannot be manipulated by any other person such as another judge, government minister or police.

Judge Brandts-Giesen was appointed to the judiciary in August 2016.

Before he became a District Court judge he had practised law for more than 40 years.

According to Christchurch Court News, who reported on the new judge's swearing in last year, as a lawyer he "primarily practised family law, including conducting relationship property and care of children cases and numerous appointments as lawyer for the child".