National | Domestic violence

Legislation changes to fight domestic violence

Strangulation, coerced marriage and assault on a person in a family relationship will now be recognised as offences under the Family Violence Amendment Act.

The new provision will come into effect on Monday.

Under the new law, the act of strangulation of a family member will carry a maximum penalty of seven years imprisonment.

Jan Logie, Under-secretary to the Minister of Justice says, "This legislation is intended to ensure that when people experience this, or this happens to a family member that everyone knows how serious this is and feel confident in coming forward."

NZ Police say strangulation is one of the most common assaults in family relationships but has been difficult to distinguish under the Crimes Act.

Inspector Fleur de Bes says the new law will allow police to clearly identify it.

"We've been unable to easily gather data in the past and that's purely as the Law Commission reports showed.”

“We've got such a range of assault charges within the Crimes Act that it is very hard to distinguish which are physical assaults such as punches or slaps versus what strangulation is."

NZ has one of the highest rates of intimate partner violence in the OECD according to the Ministry of Justice, with 23% of the population affected and police call outs made every 4 minutes.

Te Puni Kōkiri stats say Māori are twice as likely as non-Māori to be an offender.

Logie says, "This bill is part of legislative response to family violence but the government knows that we have to be working really closely with Māori leaders to be able to unlock the solutions that exist within te ao Māori to restore the safety and well-being for whānau."

Assault on a whānau member, including immediate family, in-laws, step-relatives and wider family will also carry a maximum penalty of two years imprisonment.

Logie says coerced marriage has also been strongly identified by academics and the Shakti social service.  Coerced marriage or civil union will now be recognised as a crime whether it occurs in NZ or overseas.

Other amendments include new provisions to the Evidence Act to the allow victims to give evidence via a video recording and changes to the Bail Act 2000 that will prioritise the safety of the victims and their family when deciding whether to grant bail for a defendant charged with family violence.