Sexual violence is a significant social problem in New Zealand, with approximately one in six people experiencing sexual violence at some point during their lives. The negative impact of sexual violence can be long-lasting and affect relationships, wider family/whānau, and work. Most victims of sexual violence do not report the offending to Police and therefore offenders are not prosecuted. For serious sexual violence offences that are prosecuted, court responses have been examined in the 2015 Law Commission report, The Justice Response to Victims of Sexual Violence.
In response to a recommendation in that report, the Sexual Violence Court Pilot (SVCP) was created as a judicial initiative to establish best practice for the conduct of Category 3 sexual violence trials, within existing legislation. The aims of the pilot are to reduce delays and improve the courtroom experience for complainants, while preserving the rights to a fair trial for defendants. The SVCP has been established in the Auckland and Whangarei District Courts, beginning in December 2016. It is supported by a governance group comprising the Chief District Court Judge, three other members of the judiciary and Ministry of Justice (the Ministry) representatives (including the pilot project manager and the judicial resource manager).
A preliminary evaluation found positive early impacts from the pilot. Now a comprehensive and independent evaluation has been conducted by the Ministry. This report presents the findings of a qualitative study that collected data from a wide range of stakeholders involved in the pilot including complainant witnesses, and relevant quantitative data provided by the Ministry.
The objectives of this evaluation were to:
- assess the extent to which the changes that have been implemented achieve the outcomes intended.
- identify any unintended consequences of the pilot on the timeliness and processes of non-pilot cases.
- identify any challenges, requirements, and opportunities for potential roll-out of a Sexual Violence Court.