Changes to legislation: Sexual Violence Legislation Act 2021

Wed 23 Feb 2022

The Sexual Violence Legislation Act 2021 makes changes to trial processes and the rules of evidence to improve victim/survivors' experiences in court.

The Sexual Violence Legislation Act 2021 passed its third reading in Parliament and on 20 December 2021 received Royal Assent. The Act amends the Evidence Act 2006, Victims’ Rights Act 2002, and Criminal Procedure Act 2011. The purpose of the legislation is to reduce trauma to victim/survivors of sexual violence when they attend court and give evidence.

Read the full Sexual Violence Legislation Act 2021.

The Beehive media release highlights some of the key changes to court processes and rules related to evidence, noting "Most of the Bill's changes were recommended by the Law Commission in 2015 and 2019, and have been called for by experts and advocates."

Key changes include:

  • Allowing sexual violence complainants to use alternative ways of giving evidence, including pre-recording cross-examination evidence in appropriate cases (see Section 16).
  • Making sure evidence about a complainant's previous sexual interactions with the defendant is off limits, unless it is clearly highly relevant (see Section 8).
  • Requiring judges to talk to the jury to dispel any misconceptions relating to sexual violence (known as rape myths) that might be brought into a case (see Section 21).

Other changes include:

  • Expanding specialist help with understanding and communicating in court for whatever reason. This was previously only available to witnesses with insufficient English, or a communication disability (see Section 4).
  • Requiring judges to intervene when the judge considers questions to witnesses are unacceptable including "the way in which it is asked, is improper, unfair, misleading, needlessly repetitive, or expressed in language that is too complicated for the witness to understand." Judges can take into account the witness’s vulnerability, the nature of previous questions and cumulative impact of questions alongside other factors (see Section 9).
  • Further limiting the defendant’s right to cross-examine witnesses in person in a sexual case or family violence or harassment case (see Section 10).
  • Allowing video recorded statements to Police by victims of family violence to be used as their evidence in Court (see Section 15).
  • Extending protections while giving evidence in sexual cases – such as being able to do so from behind a screen or by video evidence – to propensity witnesses (see Section 16).
  • Allowing all victim impact statements to be given with protections such as being screened from the defendant or by video statement (see Section 29). In sexual cases the Court may also be closed to the public (see Section 30).
  • Requiring appropriate facilities to be available to victims attending court or participating in court proceedings, such as alternative waiting areas (see Section 31).

Some changes came into effect immediately upon Royal Assent, while other changes come into effect one year after Royal Assent or an earlier date set by Order in Council.

Minister for the Prevention of Family Violence and Sexual Violence, Marama Davidson said:

“We have a significant underreporting of sexual violence in Aotearoa, New Zealand. In the development of Te Aorerekura, our national strategy to eliminate family violence and sexual violence, we heard clearly that our systems must be safe and accessible, so people feel supported to seek help and accountability.

“This Bill will help change attitudes and processes that have traditionally normalised or excused violence.”

Jan Logie, who introduced the legislation in 2019 in her previous role as the Parliamentary Under-Secretary to the Minister of Justice (Domestic and Sexual Violence Issues), welcomed the legislation saying:

“I want to acknowledge and thank the courageous people who have spent years fighting for the changes in this Bill. With roots in our country’s response to the experience of sexual violence victims, it has taken over 12 hard-fought years to deliver change. Survivors’ growing calls for action, and a system that safeguards victims, have made this Bill a reality.

“However, there is more we must do to centre victims and stop violence perpetuating in our society, including reviewing the education of defence and prosecution workforces, so they can test the evidence rather than the witness, and clearly defining consent.

“At the point of harm occurring, both those impacted by violence and those who have used violence need end to end advocacy and support to help stop further violence and harm from happening and heal.

“The evidence is clear that we need to develop alternate justice pathways that provide culturally appropriate, non-adversarial, accountability with the opportunity to heal.

“People in Aotearoa should rightly expect a justice system that restores mana, not diminishes it.”

Cabinet papers related to the legislation have been proactively released. See the previously published Law Commission reports from the related reviews: The Justice Response to Victims of Sexual Violence (2015) and The Second Review of the Evidence Act (2019).

Update: Te Aka Matua o te Ture | the Law Commission released terms of reference for the Te Arotake Tuatoru i te Evidence Act 2006 | The Third Review of the Evidence Act in September 2022. The terms of reference state this review will not include amendments to the Act made by the Sexual Violence Legislation Act 2021. This review will include consideration of te Tiriti o Waitangi | the Treaty of Waitangi, ao Māori perspectives on evidence and any matters of particular concern to Māori.

More information

Elisabeth McDonald is giving a public talk on 15 March 2022 about research exploring victim/survivors experience in rape trials without a jury. The open access book (freely available online), In the Absence of a Jury: Examining judge-alone rape trials (forthcoming March 2022), will also be launched at the talk.

Elisabeth McDonald, Paulette Benton-Greig, Sandra Dickson and Rachel Souness previously researched court processes in adult acquaintance rape jury trials to understand the experience of victim/survivors and identify ways to improve court processes. Findings from the first part of this research were published in the open access book, Rape Myths as Barriers to Fair Trial Process: Comparing adult rape trials with those in the Aotearoa Sexual Violence Court Pilot (2020).

The Chief Victims Advisor commissioned research into practices of cross-examination of children and young people as complainants of sexual violence. The report, That’s a Lie - Sexual violence misconceptions, accusations of lying, and other tactics in the cross-examination of child and adolescent sexual violence complainants (2021), shares findings from analysis of 15 transcripts of the cross-examination of young complainants from trials that took place in the Auckland and Whangārei Sexual Violence Pilot Courts. A key finding was that sexual violence misconceptions were pervasive and "...were typically raised to challenge the plausibility of the complainant’s evidence." The report identifies cross-examination practices that contribute to victim distress, victim-blaming and damage to the quality of evidence young complainants provide.

The Ministry of Social Development has recently published a Literature review on international best court support models for victim-survivors of sexual violence (2020). In 2019 the Ministry of Justice published Attrition and Progression: Reported Sexual Violence Victimisations in the Criminal Justice System (2019).

Oranga Tamariki published an evidence brief summarising a review of support services available for children and adolescents who are victims of sexual crimes in New Zealand and internationally in December 2021.

Related media

'Mortifying': Victim responds to child rapist's defence that sex with 12-year-old was consensual, NZ Herald, 13.10.2022

Victim regrets reporting sex assault after abuser successfully appeals jail term, Stuff, 20.08.2022

Rebalancing the scales: Is there a better way to get justice for rape victims?, NZ Herald, 21.03.2022

Aviva Research Emphasizes Need For Youth-Focused Support For Young People Who Have Experienced Sexual Harm, Press Release: Aviva, 21.03.2022

Rape trials traumatise victims even without jury and need overhauling, research finds, Stuff, 15.03.2022

Oranga Tamariki 'on the back foot' with sexual violence support services - Māori social workers, RNZ, 15.03.2022

Sexual violence plan stuck in bureacracy, Waatea News, 15.03.2022

Oranga Tamariki's new child sexual violence services in limbo, RNZ, 14.03.2022

Oranga Tamariki didn't meet Māori over new sexual violence services, RNZ, 14.03.2022

Study reveals video statements effective in family harm cases, RNZ, 10.03.2022

Victim Video Statement Success. Te angitūtanga o ngā Tauākī Ataata, NZ Police media release, 08.03.2022

2 years in prison or $50K fine for ‘revenge porn’ offenders, One News, 03.03.2022

‘Emotionally disturbing’ - Revenge porn victim’s battle for justice, One News, 02.03.2022

Behind the story: The town that backed a child sex abuser, RNZ, 08.03.2022

Calls for sexual consent education to be compulsory in NZ schools, Re:news, 07.03.2022

Advocates want more support for kids in sexual abuse court cases, RNZ, 01.03.2022

Child sex abuse claimants need more support in court - experts, RNZ, 01.03.2022

The town that backed a child sex abuser, RNZ, 28.02.2022

Advocates want more support for kids in sexual abuse court cases, RNZ, 28.02.2022

My rapist was found not guilty - Young woman horrified and revictimised during trial, RNZ, 16.02.2022

Oranga Tamariki apologises for incorrect information on $4m sexual violence programme underspend, RNZ, 10.02.2022

‘Victim’ or ‘survivor’ — what’s in a name?, Newsroom, 24.01.2022

Harmful sexual behaviour among children in care rising fast, RNZ, 24.12.2021

Oranga Tamariki underspent funding meant to protect and help child victims of sexual violence, RNZ, 17.12.2021

Report reveals some sexual assault survivors 'spent years unaware they were even eligible to make a claim', RNZ, 16.12.2021

New sexual violence law gives better protections to survivors in court, Stuff, 15.12.2021

Sexual Violence Legislation Bill, Ministry of Justice news, 15.12.2021

'Essentially fobbed off' - Sexual assault victims say they struggled to get financial help from ACC, RNZ, 14.12.2021

'Why didn't you scream?': Child sex abuse complainants face victim blaming, badgering in court, Stuff, 09.12.2021

Save The Children Says "we Need To Do Better" For Child Victims In Court Process, Press Release: Save The Children, Scoop, 09.12.2021

Claims that sexual violence bill will harm Māori are unfounded, Stuff, 01.07.2021

Unsilenced: Sexual abuse survivors speak out to give others the courage to break free, Newshub, 20.04.2021

It’s not ‘stealthing’ – it’s rape, The Spinoff, 20.04.2021

Women's Refuge says justice system is failing sexual assault victims, Newstalk ZB, 05.04.2021

Low rape conviction rate shows system is failing - Women's Refuge, RNZ, 04.04.2021

Raped with her boyfriend asleep in the room: 'I felt sick', Stuff, 21.03.2021

Sexual Violence Legislation Bill eases brutality of court process for complainants, Stuff, 06.03.2021

Left in limbo: Police backlog of sexual assault cases continues to worsen, Stuff, 04.03.2021

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