District judges get special training to hear sexual assault cases

by Allie Sanchez26 Oct 2016
The New Zealand justice system is rolling out specialist courts aimed at making hearings of sexual violence cases less traumatic for those involved.

In a pilot project set to start in December, district courts in Whangarei and Auckland will assign courtrooms with especially trained judges for all jury trials that involve serious sexual offenses.
The justice system selected Whangarei to take part in the pilot because 30% of all trials in the region involve sexual violence.

These courts are the Law Commission’s response to sexual violence.

The first cases will be heard in December 2017. If results of the two-year pilot prove positive, the specialist courts will be replicated across the country.

Chief District Court Judge Jan-Marie Doogue said the courts are aimed at improving the current system for dealing with cases of sexual violence.

"Firstly they are too long; second, the processes can be brutalising,” she said. "In particularly sensitive cases like these it has meant complainants, vulnerable victims and defendants have had to come back on several occasions, so what we're hoping to do is to make sure there is a firm date in place for trial."

Anti-violence advocate Louise Nicholas added that the judges hearing such cases need training to understand the behaviour of sexual assault victims.

"It's about judges understanding the nature of the survivor and the trauma they go through - you can get women and men who are upfront and say it how it is, and then on the other hand you can get victims who are upset and struggle to speak in court. It's about accepting that and accepting everyone is unique and supporting them through court proceedings," she said.

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