Tag all family abusers: Judge

STEVE KILGALLON
Last updated 05:00 15/06/2014

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The former Supreme Court judge leading the Glenn Inquiry wants to electronically tag men on domestic violence protection orders so an alarm sounds if they approach the family home.

Bill Wilson, speaking ahead of tomorrow's release of the inquiry's People's Report, also wants a complete reform of the Family Court and is calling on a cross-party commitment to an overhaul of the family violence system.

The People's Report is an analysis of 500 witness statements to the inquiry from victims of abuse and workers in the sector. Wilson expects it will cause outrage.

"I believe the country will be shocked by the descriptions of family violence . . . and it is my hope that shock will translate quickly into a widespread agreement, including between the main political parties, that something has to be done as a matter of urgency."

The report contains no formal recommendations of reform, which will come in a final report, The Blueprint, in October.

But Wilson says the patterns he has seen have led him to come up with preliminary ideas of his own.

An electronic tagging system for domestic-violence offenders could be introduced.

"We've had a number of tragic incidents in recent times where a former partner and children who were meant to be protected by court order have been killed by the man against whom the order was made. That's an appalling situation.

"The reality is a man who is minded to attack his former partner and children will not be deterred by a piece of paper. If we can avoid one more situation [like this] then it would be justified."

The electronic tags would trigger an alarm with Corrections if the offender breached an agreed perimeter, and they would alert the former partner and police. A similar system has been used in Spain and France.

In January, Dunedin man Edward Livingstone murdered his children. He had twice breached a protection order his estranged wife, Katharine Webb, had taken out against him but received diversion and a discharge without conviction for the offences.

Debbie Hager of the Coalition for the Safety of Women and Children said she wasn't sure that Wilson's idea would work.

"It could stop some physical offending but it may not prevent the range of other breaches, for example, phone, text, via children and friends," she said.

"Does it take into account freedom of movement? They could still be harassed in the street, at the school gates or at work."

Police Minister Anne Tolley said GPS tracking was used for high-risk and child sex offenders, but had been widened to a small number of domestic violence offenders, and the Government was considering ways to expand that number.

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Justice Minister Judith Collins said the Government had increased the maximum penalty for breaching a protection order from two years jail to three, more breaches were being prosecuted and further strengthening of laws around domestic violence was planned.

The Government was also considering a scheme modelled on a British law change called Clare's Law, which allows police to disclose violence convictions to a new partner.

Wilson said testimony in the People's Report also suggested the existing court system was too adversarial and "hostile" and suggested a change to a European-style "inquisitorial" system where a specially trained judge investigates the case.

"I suspect that hostility comes from the fact of the adversarial system - each party not only puts forward their own case but can attack the case of the other side."

Another major theme was the link between binge-drinking and family violence, which Wilson said was unsurprising, but graphically detailed. He said he supported recent attempts to reform the supply of alcohol.

"It is difficult to quarrel with the position that as a country we have a problem with binge-drinking."

Wilson said the inquiry's independence had seen witnesses be much more open about flaws within government systems, and said there were "certainly issues to be addressed" at Child Youth and Family and the Ministry of Social Development.

Wilson said he hoped for "considerable [political] discussion" on the report in the months leading up to October's Blueprint. He would seek meetings with party spokespeople and reiterated that he was willing to make it an election issue if rebuffed.

"We need a groundswell of public opinion [for reform] and we're hoping the People's Report will bring that about."

- Sunday Star Times

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