OPINION: Late last Tuesday Parliament passed the Victims Orders Against Violent Offender's Bill.
The legislation is aimed to put in place Court Orders to prevent offenders from coming into contact with their victims and to provide punishment for offenders who knowingly breach those orders.
This is not a protection order, which only applies for people who have been in a domestic relationship, or an order under the Harassment Act which is to stop ongoing harassment.
Parole conditions for offenders who have left prison tend to have a shelf life (for want of a better term) so the new law seeks to put in place something like a protection order.
The legal requirements are that someone needs to have been the victim of a "violent crime", which is defined as a violent offence which carries a maximum sentence of a term of imprisonment of two years or more.
It then needs to be proven that the victim of that crime is suffering from ongoing effects and making of the order (called a non-contact order) is reasonably necessary to avoid contact between the victim and the violent offender and is in all circumstances necessary.
What is interesting to me, as a lawyer, is that a victim has to prove that contact with the offender affects their ability to "manage", which is something new for the judges to interpret, I think. What does manage (a very broad term) actually mean in someone's life? Quite helpfully there is no definition of "manage" in the legislation passed.
The non-contact order can be applied for through the District Court at any time after an offender has been released from prison. If there is another type of order in place (like a protection order) no application can be made.
These applications can be made in two ways. Firstly before the offender is told about the application and without the offender having the ability to present his or her case to the court before any non-contact order is made or not made. Alternatively the victim can bring an action in such a way that court gets to hear from the offender before the non-contact order is made or not made.
The effect is that there is to be no following, watching, accosting letters, calls, electronic messages, leaving offensive material with or near the victim or getting someone else to do those things on the offenders behalf. This largely mirrors terms of existing protection orders issued by the Family Court.
If the non-contact order is breached then there are additional punishments which include possible imprisonment. The non-contact order can run for as long as the Court deems necessary, or for two years if no time limit for the non-contact order's duration is set by a Judge.
As there is currently no long-term mechanism in place by which police or the Courts can prevent an offender from coming into contact with a victim (in the absence of a deliberate recent harassment or domestic relationship) this is a good piece of law I think.
You see, victims have rights as well as offenders and often the offending itself means that an offender cannot go overseas and his or her job opportunities and ability to travel to other parts of the country are compromised as a result of the conviction for the offending itself. So they tend to stay in the locality they offended in on their release I have found.
This coupled with a victim who wants to be around family to heal, which means they don't travel very far either, means this piece of legislation is, I believe, a very common sense one.
I see a lot of people who have suffered from a violent crime become despondent, turn to alcohol and drugs and just cannot get over that something awful has happened to them. If this piece of legislation helps them do so then it can only be a good thing.
Jay Lovely is a senior solicitor at RSM Law. This article is not legal advice. If you need legal advice on this matter, contact your lawyer.
- The Timaru Herald