Questioning someone's sexual history could soon be banned in courts

A person's sexual history could soon be off-limits in court hearings now that the Government has accepted the recommendation made by the Law Commission. 

It was one of 12 of the latest recommendations the Government has accepted in response to the independent commission's March report on its review of the Evidence Act 2006. 

Banning questioning about a complainant's sexual history will be included in legislation to be introduced later this year, among 18 of 27 recommendations the Government has accepted. 

The Government is already progressing six of the commission's recommendations relating to complainants and witnesses in sexual violence and family violence cases, the details which were announced in July. 

Justice Minister Andrew Little, announcing the latest accepted recommendations on Monday, said the Government wishes to further consider the remaining nine recommendations.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the way New Zealand courts "process and deal with claims" has been "raised continuously" and that it's "something we've been actively looking at". 

In accepting the recommended ban on questioning a complainant's sexual history, the Government has also accepted the recommendation that an application would need to be made if a party wishes to question someone's sexual history in court.  

The Government has already agreed to the recommendation of recording evidence given at trial, so it can be replayed at retrial instead of having to be given again. 

The Justice Minister, Andrew Little, said he accepts the Law Commission's conclusion that changes are needed to the Evidence Act.
The Justice Minister, Andrew Little, said he accepts the Law Commission's conclusion that changes are needed to the Evidence Act. Photo credit: Newshub

In addition, more certainty would be given to judges to intervene in unfair or inappropriate questioning in court, and to "address common myths and misconceptions about sexual violence". 

Sexual violence victims would also be given the right to choose how they give evidence, with the option of audio visual link or pre-recorded video, to avoid seeing their attacker.

These recommendations will be progressed through a Sexual Violence Bill.

Little said the next steps include developing legislation to make further amendments to the Evidence Act, and undertaking a review of the Evidence Regulations 2007.

"The Government accepts the Law Commission's conclusion that the Act is generally working well, but that some improvements are needed," he said. 

Budget 2019 will provide $32.8 million in funding, plus $5 million in capital, to support the implementation of the reforms. 

The Law Commission is required to review the Evidence Act every five years. 

The latest announcement follows a $320 million package in May aimed at reducing family and sexual violence, and new laws to address family violence that came into effect in July

Where to find help and support:

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  • Lifeline - 0800 543 354 or (09) 5222 999 within Auckland
  • Youthline - 0800 376 633, text 234, email or online chat
  • Samaritans - 0800 726 666
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