NCWNZ oral submission to expand laws supporting victims of family violence

Bernice Williams oral submission Justice Comm 1 Feb 2024On 1 February 2024, Bernice Williams of the NCWNZ Health, Safety & Wellbeing Action Hub presented an oral submission to the Parliament's Justice Committee | Komiti Take Ture who are working on expanding the courts' power to better protect the victims of family violence in Legislation Bill 285-1. The members of the Justice Committee who heard the submission were: James Meager (Chair, National); Todd Stephenson (ACT); Marama Davidson (Green); Ginny Anderson (Labour); Dr Duncan Webb (Labour); and, Tracey McLellan (Labour). The recording with Williams' presentation can be found on the Justice Committee, New Zealand Parliament website at the minute mark 32.34 and runs about 10 minutes:

This presentation by Williams was a follow-up of a written submission previously lodged (see the full submission dated 18 October 2023 on the NCWNZ website at Submission 23.16  Victims of Family Violence) with the support of the Parliamentary Watch Committee and the Board of NCWNZ. Basically, the goal of the submission was to urge the Justice Committee to focus on curbing "vexatious litigation" or "litigation abuse" by those in family courts who weaponise the civil court system in a persistent process of abusing their own families. The hope was to convince the Justice Committee members to add a piece to the proposed legislation that would use the Crimes Act to punish those using pernicious and harassing court filings alongside an existing family court case. Williams stated:

Of grave concern to NCWNZ is the current burgeoning of all forms of stalking, and in particular, the many forms of online harassment, threats, surveillance and abuse carried out by stalkers via electronic means. We view litigation abuse as one of many forms of control and harassment stalkers use to abuse their victims.

Williams continued with reminding the Justice Committee members that stalking as a criminal act, especially that which is perpetrated by a partner or ex-partner, has a high risk of homicide as a result. The current laws that address stalking behaviors in part - such as The Harassment Act 1997, The Family Violence Act 2018, and The Harmful Digital Communications Act 2015 - are not addressing all forms of stalking. Thus, an amended Crimes Act could make any type of stalking a criminal offence. This reform would give judges the power to further protect victims already facing strenuous decisions in family courts.

This work has been and continues to be in collaboration with The Auckland Coalition for the Safety of Women and Children and the National Collective of Independent Women's Refuges. Bernice Williams and other members of the NCWNZ collaborated to produce a paper outlining the current issues pertaining to stalking in Aotearoa New Zealand and the need for a new criminal law on stalking to be included in the Crimes Act. This paper was sent to the Ministry of Justice in November 2022 (see the Circular article about this and you can download the paper here) and to the Minister of Police in May 2023. 


To read more articles from The Circular (January-February 2024) issue 645, click on the tag below.
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