Contents

Chapter 9
Other options for reform

Improving understanding of the dynamics of family violence

9.15Many argue that effective change cannot be achieved through reform to homicide defences and/or sentencing provisions alone.486 Community understanding of the dynamics of family violence, and the realities faced by victims of family violence who commit homicide, need to improve. The FVDRC identifies a wider concern about how family violence is conceptualised within professional practice, and calls for a conceptual shift that needs to inform professional education and training, policy development, assessment frameworks and processes within and between organisations.487
9.16Law reform bodies in Australia have recognised that a focus on the “doctrinal content of defences is insufficient to ensure that the experiences of family violence victims who kill are accommodated in practice”.488 Specific evidential provisions, that set out that family violence evidence is relevant and admissible to a self-defence claim, aim to improve the jury’s understanding of the violence the defendant was subjected to. Jury directions are also intended to address some common community misunderstandings around family violence. These options for reform are discussed in Chapter 7.

9.17As noted in Chapter 6, several Australian law reform bodies have also recommended non-doctrinal legal reforms, such as professional legal and judicial education, and a family violence bench book to provide guidance to the judiciary. Such lateral reforms are intended to precipitate cultural change within the legal system.

Educating the judiciary and legal profession

9.18Given the extent of the problem of family violence in New Zealand, our preliminary view is that there is room to improve the understanding of the judiciary and legal profession of the social context, nature and dynamics of family violence.

9.19However, we are also conscious that, given the low number of homicides committed by victims of family violence in New Zealand, any education or training would have to be carefully constructed so that it is relevant and effective.

9.20We note that the issue of education is part of a wider identified need for professional education and training about family violence, recommended for example by the FVDRC.489 A similar finding was also made following a 2008 survey of attitudes about family violence conducted for the Ministry of Social Development:490

There may be a need to dispel myths around violence within families, such as why women stay, barriers to leaving, the cycle of violence, the negative effects of both witnessing and experiencing violence, the trauma caused by non-physical violence, and negative outcomes of violence.

Such education may help people understand the real truths to violence within families and may also help to strengthen attitudes that support victim safety, perpetrator accountability and personal relevance to take action.

Responses also highlight the possible need for education about safety for women leaving abusive relationships. While it is important that family, friends and communities support women to leave abusive relationships, safety at the time of separation is not assured.

Educating New Zealanders about supporting victims to leave and making sure victims are safe is essential. Education on why women stay in violent relationships, and barriers to leaving, may help people understand the dynamics of living with violence and the level of support victims need before and during the leaving process.

Such education may also help to strengthen attitudes that support victim safety, perpetrator accountability and personal relevance to take action.

Questions for consultation

Q20 Would you support further education or training on the dynamics of family violence for those operating within the criminal justice system, including lawyers, judges, police and jurors?

486Fitz-Gibbon and Stubbs, above n 306, at 331.
487Family Violence Death Review Committee, above n 2, at 17.
488Australian Law Reform Commission and NSW Law Reform Commission, above n 10, at 651.
489Family Violence Death Review Committee, above n 2, at 105.
490Fleur McLaren, above n 293, at 26.