A review of the Domestic
Violence Act might be ''healthy'', but legislative change
will be a kneejerk reaction to societal shame, an authority
on family law says.
University of Otago dean of law Prof Mark Henaghan made the
comments in response to growing calls for changes to legal
protection orders following the St Leonards shootings this
Labour Party justice spokesman Andrew Little and women's
affairs spokeswoman Carol Beaumont released a joint statement
yesterday calling for a review of legal protection orders
following the deaths of Bradley and Ellen Livingstone at St
Leonards earlier this week.
The statement suggested changes to the Domestic Violence Act,
such as giving police the power to issue protection orders,
where they deemed a situation to be dangerous, rather than
relying on a potential victim to apply for an order.
They also suggested moving the issuing of protection orders
from the Family Court to the jurisdiction of the district
court, which would ''move the focus from one of conciliation
to one of enforcement''.
However, Prof Henaghan said such proposals were ''silly'' and
a ''bit of a slap in the face to family court judges''.
''Family court judges do grant protection orders and they do
know these matters well. They take it very, very seriously,''
He did agree a review should take place and would be
''helpful to look at where the gaps are''.
''It's a review to see that everyone is playing their part,''
''It has to look at the reality of what's happening on the
It needed to assess whether groups like Women's Refuge had
adequate resources to provide support and care, he said.
He also believed cultural change needed to take place
throughout New Zealand, as domestic violence was ''pretty
endemic in our country''.
''We need to have a whole community that says [to abusers]
what you are doing is wrong and we will help you to change.''
Statistics supplied by the Ministry of Justice showed there
had been 13,000 final protection orders granted in New
Zealand between July 2008 and June 2013, and more than 9000
people have been convicted of breaching protection orders in
the same period.
A Ministry of Justice spokesman said the statistics did not
show that two-thirds of orders had been breached, as once
orders were issued, they remained indefinitely and there
could be tens of thousands of orders active, although the
ministry was unable to provide those numbers.
Prof Henaghan said the high number of breaches was
symptomatic of a culture when domestic violence was common,
not of an ineffective law.
''Legislation is only the tip of the iceberg. The Act is
pretty good; it's got the widest definition of domestic
violence in the world probably. The real issue is whether
it's being applied consistently across the country.
''It's not the law, it's how we apply it and what's in our
hearts and minds and how seriously we take it.''
Justice Minister Judith Collins - whose cousin was killed by
her estranged husband after he breached a protection order -
told the New Zealand Herald the system had been reviewed in
the Family Court reform process.
That resulted in the Government increasing penalties for
breaching protection orders from two years' imprisonment to
''The issue in this case is that this person wasn't
imprisoned, otherwise this wouldn't have happened,'' Ms
She said that with the increased penalties, Parliament was
trying to send a message to judges that ''we expect people to
face the full penalties available should they continuously
breach these orders''.
But such cases were difficult for judges to deal with.
''I'm not someone who blames the judges or those who try to
stop this happening. The full blame must be with the
She said that before Christmas she had asked officials to
work on measures to further toughen up enforcement of
''They're doing some work for me, including giving the
judiciary the power to impose GPS monitoring,'' she said.
The GPS devices attached to an offender send out a signal
every minute. If the offender strays into ''exclusion zones''
near victims an alarm sounds at the Corrections Department
offices in Wellington.
Officials call police in the region immediately, or on some
occasions ring the offender directly to warn them to leave
Ms Collins expects to be updated next week.
Tim Black, of the Law Society's family law section, said it
appeared the protection order system was working because Ms
Webb was able to obtain an order and breaches of that order
were dealt with by police and the courts.
But ''a piece of paper by itself can't stop someone acting in
Women's Refuge chief executive Heather Henare said all
breaches of protection orders ''should be treated with the
full force of our law'', and offenders who threatened to kill
''should be treated in the most high-risk category with