National | Aotearoa

New sexual violence court should also culturally educate judges - Quince

The sexual violence court pilot starting this December aims to streamline cases, upskill judges and make the process less traumatic for victims. But Auckland University Law Lecturer Khylee Quince says while the programme would have its benefits, judges could be reluctant to train.

Quince says while some special-focus courts have seen a level of success, the sexual violence court pilot is a "wait and see approach".

"You can replicate something from another jurisdiction but there aren't Māori in other jurisdictions, so they're going to have to figure out as they have with the Alcohol and Drug Treatment Court, the Rangatahi Courts, the Homeless Court; most of the clientele. The people that will be coming, offenders and victims will be Māori, it's about our cultural identity, and it’s about our response to marginalisation and inequality."

District Court Judges in Whangarei and Auckland will lead the project come December with the first case expected come mid-2017. The goal is for sexual violence trials to begin within six-months of the first court appearance.

"One of my concerns is the fact they've talked about the need to have specialist training for judges, but we need to know what the specialist training is. So it should be about dealing with Māori as well as dealing with the specialist nature of sexual violence and how those dynamics work."

The Law Commission report on judicial responses to sexual violence released last year saw some groups support specialisation to make trials more effective, while others opposed it citing a risk of judicial cynicism and burnout due to stress.

"To some extent you might think it will be a self-selecting audience because I presume they will choose judges, or judges will put their hands up to be involved as part of the pilot, so in some sense you're preaching to the converted."

Currently there are no judges who formally specialise in sexual violence cases, and there is no requirement for them to undertake specialist education to deal with matters arising in sexual violence cases.