Family violence sickens judge
Family violence is making New Zealand an unattractive place to live and New Zealanders need to front up to it, the principal family court judge says.
Judge Peter Boshier also used one of his last public speeches before stepping down as principal family court judge to call for a new family violence charge to increase punishments and raise awareness, saying the situation was ''untenable''.
Speaking at the Women's Refuge Whanau of Tomorrow conference in Blenheim on Saturday, Judge Boshier said there was a view among New Zealanders that family violence was not as bad as other forms of violence, and Kiwis readily resorted to it.
The country needed to ''get real'' about the size and the effects of the problem.
''Our intolerance and aggression is unacceptable. In my time as a judge I have dealt with thousands of family violence cases. The intensity and range of abuse is deplorable and at times I have felt deeply affected by what I have read.''
Time and time again we need to give messages that family violence is harmful, that it injures our country and that it has enormous consequences,'' he said.
One step to reducing the problem would be to introduce a charge of family violence, he said.
People committing family violence in New Zealand were seeing charges against them ''dumbed down'' by overworked prosecutors reducing charges to secure guilty pleas, and there was too little support for victims in court, he said.
Because of the way convictions are recorded judges were also unable to tell if a person's previous convictions were for domestic violence and what the relationship with the victim was, meaning the judges were missing out on crucial information about a person's past behaviour and the risk they posed to others. Law reform would not be difficult and having a specific family violence charge would brand the criminal in the same way as a drink-driver or drug dealer was branded, stopping them hiding behind other charges such as assault, he said. It would also raise awareness of family violence and potentially increase punishments.
There were some positive changes in the Government's proposed Family Court reforms, he said, including broadening the definition of domestic violence to include economic abuse, raising the maximum penalty for breaching a protection order and allowing more customised programmes to help specific offenders.
However, the courts also needed to help victims by providing information about support services, explain the process of applying for protection and helping them form a safety plan.
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