Government plans new legislation to support victims of sexual violence in courts

The Government's introducing new legislation to give more rights and support to the victims of sexual violence in the justice system.

Justice Minister Kiri Allan announced on Friday she plans to introduce a Bill before the election that will focus on changes in three areas: sexual violence against children, litigation abuse in family proceedings and giving greater choice to victims of sexual violence around name suppression decisions.

"We've heard from victims and their advocates about where the gaps are in the system," Allan said. "Today we are addressing some of the clearest examples of what needs to change."

As well as aligning the penalty for sexual connection with a child to a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, the Government is addressing an issue where young sexual assault victims can be questioned on whether they provided consent.

The legal age of consent in New Zealand is 16, but there have been cases where alleged perpetrators of sexual assault against a minor have argued in court that the complainant consented.

"Currently a child sexual assault victim can be questioned as to whether they consented to sexual activity," Allan said. "This is unacceptable and falls well below societal expectations of how the law should work. We're fixing the law to minimise the risk of this happening."

The legislation will also "provide the courts with greater powers to stop litigation abuse". 

Litigation abuse means an individual uses the court system to harass another. This can include filing excessive or abusive applications in family-related proceedings. It's sometimes used by the ex-partner of someone to keep some control over their lives.

Allan said the Bill will also "clarify the process to lift name suppression in the criminal court, giving victims a clear opportunity at the time of trial to ask about having it lifted".

"These changes will make an immediate and meaningful difference to the lives of the victims of some of our most serious and violent crimes. Improving the system will help make complainants feel more comfortable in court and encourage them to come forward," said Allan.

The Government's also launching three pilot programmes to help the victims of serious crime navigate the court system, strengthen support for child victims of sexual violence, and ensure victims' views are provided in bail decisions.

These will be trialled over the next year in courts in Whangārei and Manukau with "an aim to test fixes for some of the bigger gaps in the system and provide crucial evidence about what works in order to drive longer-term change".

"The initiatives will be evaluated, adjusted according to frontline and victims' feedback and then, if successful, we can look at how the solution could be scaled up," Allan said.

"The kind of transformation the criminal justice system needs will take time, but we are committed to delivering for victims."

An additional $3 million in funding is also being given to Victim Support and $2.2 million to the Victim's Assistance Scheme.