Sweeping changes about how courts handle sexual violence cases have been recommended by the Law Commission amid concerns a high percentage of offending is unreported.
On Monday, it released its 252-page report on the issue, The Justice Response to Victims of Sexual Violence: Criminal Trials and Alternative Processes, which noted many victims feared how they would be treated in a criminal trial so as many as 80 per cent opted out.
“They are doing so largely because they perceive the formal criminal justice system to be alienating, traumatising and unresponsive to their legitimate concerns,” commission president Sir Grant Hammond said in the report.
Some victims, especially those violated by a family member or someone they were in a relationship with, also would not report the violence because they did not want the assailant to go to prison if convicted.
“A high percentage of victims of sexual violence are ‘opting out’ of the very system that is designed to deliver them justice. Appropriate justice processes are required for all victims of sexual violence, including those who may not want to go to trial,” Hammond said.
The commission proposed three major changes, including ways to improve trial processes, such as piloting a specialist sexual violence court, establishing a Sexual Violence Commission to give victims more support and offering an alternative justice process outside the criminal system if sexual violence victims preferred.
Other ways it recommended to boost trial processes for victims included shortening the time it took for sexual violence cases to reach trial, using less traumatic ways of giving evidence by victims and giving special training for judges.
Its proposed alternative justice process for sexual violence cases outside of the criminal system would be managed by accredited facilitators with expertise in sexual violence.
These proposals look very worthwhile and I hope the Government takes them up.
I was worried the Law Commission might go down the path of Andrew Little’s policy, where you are deemed guilty of rape unless you can prove you had consent.
The proposed alternative justice process has considerable merit. It would allow victims who don’t want to go through a criminal prosecution and trial, to still have the alleged offender have to answer questions about their actions, and potentially acknowledge they acted wrongly.