Chapter 1

The New Zealand context

Family Violence Death Review Committee

1.5The impetus for this Report is a recommendation in the Fourth Annual Report of the Family Violence Death Review Committee (FVDRC), which was published in June 2014. The FVDRC is one of several statutory death review committees established under the auspices of the Health Quality and Safety Commission and charged with reviewing particular categories of deaths in order to learn how to prevent them. In its Report, the FVDRC discussed strangulation as a feature of family violence and recommended that the Government consider enacting a separate crime to address it.

1.6The FVDRC’s recommendation followed an intensive review of family violence homicides in New Zealand over the period 2009–2012 and 17 in-depth regional reviews of selected death events. That examination demonstrated that strangulation was often minimised by practitioners and even by victims. More specifically, the FVDRC found that:

1.7The FVDRC thought that a specific strangulation offence would highlight the risk of fatality that accompanies strangulation, facilitate a more effective criminal justice response and highlight incidents of strangulation on the offender’s criminal record.

Government family violence initiativesTop

1.8Also in 2014, the Minister of Justice and the Minister for Social Development announced that family violence and sexual violence are amongst their top priorities and undertook a package of initiatives.3 One of the key initiatives was publication in August 2015 of a discussion document about strengthening the legislative response to family violence. Within the scope of review are the Domestic Violence Act 1995, the Care of Children Act 2004, the Crimes Act 1961, the Bail Act 2000 and the Sentencing Act 2002.

1.9Submissions on that document closed in September 2015, and a report is likely in mid-2016.

Law Commission projects on family violence and sexual violenceTop

1.10In addition to that package, the Minister Responsible for the Law Commission asked us to consider the rationale for the creation of a separate crime of non-fatal strangulation. This was one of three family violence or sexual violence projects referred to the Commission. The other two were:

We were asked to identify best practice for improving the court experience for complainants, with a particular focus on sexual offence cases. We recommended:

This reference was tabled in Parliament in December 2015.

This Report examines how the criminal justice system responds to victims of family violence when they face criminal charges for killing their abusers. In particular, it looks at options for amending the defence of self-defence and introducing a partial defence to murder.

This reference is likely to be tabled in Parliament prior to 30 June 2016.

3Cabinet Paper Progress on the Work Programme of the Ministerial Group on Family Violence and Sexual Violence (22 July 2015) SOC 15/68.