Monday, February 09, 2009

Exclusive: Law Commission thinks domestic violence bill goes too far

The government's Domestic Violence (Enhancing Safety) Bill goes too far, according to a report [RTF] from the Law Commission.

The bill would allow police officers to issue on-the-spot "police orders" to those suspected of domestic violence, exiling them from their homes for up to five days. This power is expected to be used in circumstances where there are reasonable grounds to believe there is a threat to someone's safety, but insufficient evidence for an arrest. However, the report from Law Commissioner Val Sim argues that such circumstances would almost never arise:

it is difficult to envisage circumstances that would meet the threshold of having "reasonable grounds to believe ... [it] is necessary to ensure the immediate safety" of an at risk person, where it would not also attract a power of arrest.
The report also expresses grave concerns about the duration of the orders and the lack of judicial oversight. It argues that a five-day period is difficult to justify given the orders' serious effects. Instead, on-the-spot orders should be available only where it is necessary to provide interim protection until a proper judicial decision can be taken. In this case, that means the one day (or two at weekends) required to apply for a formal protection order from the Family Court. If the orders last for five days, then the Law Commission wants to see an express provision allowing them to be appealed to the Family or District Court.

The Law Commission also suggests tightening the criteria on which the orders can be issued to ensure they are used properly.

So what they're suggesting is a similar process to that mooted here and on the Hand Mirror and KiwiPolitico: a shorter-term order, with immediate confirmation by the courts or appeal rights to preserve justice and fairness. Which is a much better way of doing things. No-one likes wife beaters, but we don't need to chuck away the rule of law or our fundamental values in order to combat them.