Law Commission calls for specialist sexual violence court

by Samantha Woodhill16 Dec 2015
The Law Commission is calling for a specialist sexual violence court, following the release of a new report yesterday.

The report, The Justice Response to Victims of Sexual Violence: Criminal Trials and Alternative Processes, makes 82 recommendations about process and the courts, alterative process and support for victims. 

A new specialised court would be a symbol that sexual violence is taken seriously by the criminal justice system, according to the report.

Recognising the uniqueness of sex offence cases and complainants, delay reductions and the opportunity to develop better support services were all suggested advantages by the Commission.

“In all its forms, it has certain defining characteristics that distinguish it from many other forms of criminal offending,” the report said.

“The fundamental problem, in our view, is that the criminal justice system by and large fails to take account of those distinguishing characteristics.

“Change is required if victims are to feel in a position to report acts of sexual violence.”

According to the report, many victims of sexual violence do not report it due to the current processes, the Commission recommending an alternative process that could operate entirely separately of a criminal trial.

“Court specialisation provides an opportunity to develop targeted supports for victims that are integrated within the court system,” the report said.

“A more formalised and widespread form of court specialisation could provide opportunities for that adviser role to gain more recognition, to be well supported, and to be thoroughly integrated and recognised within the court system.”

The Commission suggests a completely reconfigured courtroom, less intimidating to victims, to be reviewed after two years.

But the recommendations don’t focus on the trial process alone.

Among many other recommendations, the report also suggests that every district court and high court judge who sits on sexual violence cases should be required to have a designation to do so. The Commision is also urging the government to develop training and education programs for people interacting with sexual violence victims in a professional capacity.

“Complainants in sexual violence cases report feeling overwhelmed, confused and distressed by the number of people they interact with and to whom they are required to repeat their story from the time of the complaint to the conclusion of proceeding,” the report said.

According to the Law Society, the terms of reference for the review were received in 2010, but the review was put on hold by the then Minister for the Law Commission.  Justice Minister Amy Adams reactivated the project in late 2014.
 

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