Jail for third of breaches

Mark Henaghan
Mark Henaghan
Almost one-third of people convicted for breaching protection orders in Otago during the past five financial years were imprisoned for the crime.

Statistics obtained by the Otago Daily Times under the Official Information Act showed that of the 261 people convicted in Otago courts for breaching protection orders from July 2008 to June 2013, 31.4% were sentenced to imprisonment.

From July 2012 to June 2013, 38.2% were imprisoned.

Nationally, 28.45% of people convicted for breaching protection orders were imprisoned during the five-year period.

University of Otago dean of law Prof Mark Henaghan said the numbers showed that courts, particularly in Otago, took breaches ''seriously''.

''There's a reasonable number that are being put into prison,'' he said.

''It's good to see the courts are using imprisonment.''  

Protection order breaches rose to national prominence in January, when it emerged Edward Livingstone, who shot his two children before turning the gun on himself at his former St Leonards home, had breached a protection order, applied for by his estranged wife, twice before the killings.

The number of people imprisoned showed courts took the protection of victims into account when sentencing, Prof Henaghan said.

This was reassuring, as one of his concerns was when a breach ''goes to court the perpetrator's story gets heard, but I'm not sure the victim's does'', he said.

The percentage of people sentenced to community work (24.1% in Otago and 24.4% nationally) was worrying because it did not provide any protection to the victim, he said.

''If you don't stamp on this fairly hard, you are likely to get these sort of instances happening again.''

Te Whare Pounamu Dunedin Women's Refuge outreach worker Amanda Durham said the number imprisoned was higher than she thought it would have been, but breaches which were ignored or discharged without conviction worried her.

More than 20 people were discharged without conviction (9.2% of all convictions) for breaches in Otago from July 2008 to June 2013.

''There should be none,'' she said.

''A breach is a breach. It's not a grey area. There are clear conditions in an order. Our court system has a responsibility to send a strong message that it's a serious issue,'' she said.

New Zealand Family Violence Clearinghouse director Janet Fanslow said questions needed to be asked about what measures were being taken to keep victims safe if offenders were discharged without conviction or sentenced to community work.

Whatever decision courts made after a conviction, they needed to ''focus on the victim's safety and accountability of the offender''.

She also believed there needed to be more work in discouraging violence by educating offenders about the conditions of protection orders and dangers of domestic violence.


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