New strangulation charge could be introduced

New strangulation charge could be introduced

There's "strong evidence" for a new criminal charge of strangulation based on the latest Law Commission recommendations, the Justice Minister says.

The commission says the act of strangulation is a common form of domestic violence which "blights" New Zealand society and leaves a long-lasting impact on the victims.

A report was commissioned by Ms Adams in mid-2015 for the potential to follow other countries' leads to have a specific criminal offence of strangulation.

The commission released its report this afternoon and will be tabled in Parliament today. It says if a victim of family violence is strangled, there is a high risk they'll be killed by their attacker in the future.

Commission president Sir Grant Hammond says the "utter terror" experienced by those who have suffered strangulation "requires a stronger criminal justice response".

"Strangulation is an act that is designed to control and manipulate the victims," he says.

Ms Adams says that response fits well with the Government's own review of family violence laws.

"Strangulation is an abhorrent act. This is a deeply personal and intimidating form of violence. In a domestic violence context, it's more than just a physical attack and can have a devastating and long-lasting psychological impact on victims," she says.

Non-fatal strangulation is typically either not prosecuted or offenders are charged with generic assault offences.

"A standalone offence sends a clear-cut message that this form of abuse is unacceptable and recognises that strangulation can be a critical risk factor of escalating family violence. It would help increase public awareness and understanding and assist in the prosecution of perpetrators," Ms Adams says.

The commission found the risks to victims following strangulation is not well understood by police, judges and others who help victims of family violence.

Lead commissioner on the review Dr Wayne Mapp says those who make decisions designed to keep women safe aren't giving enough consideration to the risk to victims of strangulation. This may be because in at least half of all cases, strangulation doesn't result in obvious external injury, though there could be internal injuries or serious mental harm.

That makes it difficult for serious charges to be laid, and in these cases, the commission says abusers are often charged with low-level offences.

"The perpetrators of strangulation are often getting away with a much lower sentence than they deserve.  New Zealand needs a new offence that is designed to hold these people accountable for the seriousness of the harm," Dr Mapp says.

"A new offence of strangulation will help to keep victims of family violence safer. It will ensure that the future risks for victims of strangulation are taken into account by police and judges."

The commission recommends the offence should require proof of strangulation, but not of injury, and a conviction should earn a term of imprisonment reflecting the significant harm suffered by victims, to a maximum of seven years.

Ms Adams says she'll take a closer look at the report  before taking the recommendations to Cabinet, and would work alongside the Government review which looks at a range of new family violence offences.