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NZ: Call to ditch jury trials in rape cases

Publish Date: 03 Dec 2011
Source: The Dominion Post
By: Paul Easton

New Zealand Justice

Ditching juries for rape trials is among changes researchers propose to make the justice system work better for sex-attack victims.

The two-year study by researchers from Victoria and Canterbury universities suggests using restorative justice, where the victim and the assailant meet, as an alternative to long jail terms.

"It is not the case that all victims wish the offender to be imprisoned, especially when they have an ongoing relationship, and this may actually prevent victims reporting abuse," Yvette Tinsley, of Victoria University, said. The prospect of a lengthy jail term could also put offenders off admitting their sexual crime.

Jury trials for sexual violence cases could be replaced by "lay assessors" – experts in their field, not necessarily legally trained – the study said.

The researchers called for more public education about sex offending, and increased support for victims.

Proposed changes were aimed at all victims of sexual offending, "not only those who have been subject to so-called `real rape', that is ... committed by a stranger in a dark alley", Victoria University associate law professor Elisabeth McDonald said.

A book based on the research, From "Real Rape" to Real Justice: Prosecuting Rape in New Zealand, was published this week.

Wellington Sexual Abuse Help Foundation general manager Helen Sullivan said there was a need for a range of responses for sex offenders. "However, one of the dangers is if alternative responses get used by defence lawyers to minimise the violence that has been done, and look for lesser sentences for offences that are very serious." The study was a welcome addition to the debate, she said.

The Law Commission will release a discussion paper this month on pre-trial and trial processes in criminal cases, with emphasis on sexual violence cases.

Copyright © 2011 Fairfax New Zealand Limited