Chapter 5
Court specialisation for sexual violence cases

Issues Paper proposal for a specialist sexual violence court operating post guilty-plea

5.97A proposal was made in the Issues Paper for a specialist sexual violence court to which a perpetrator who pleaded guilty to a sex offence could be referred. The key features of that court are summarised below, and are more fully set out in the Issues Paper:426
5.98This proposal was very strongly supported by submitters to the Issues Paper427 and in subsequent consultation it also received support from a number of quarters. Submitters suggested it could address a range of problems, for example:428

5.99To these arguments we would add another, which relates to our proposal in Part C of this Report. In Part C we recommend a process outside the criminal justice system that victims and perpetrators could go through, which would not result in conviction but might involve a perpetrator making certain undertakings (for example, to complete treatment for harmful sexual behaviours). But the gap between an outcome of this kind and a criminal trial (conviction and imprisonment) could be viewed as disproportionately large. If a treatment court were also in operation, that could provide a middle-ground. For instance, an outcome of the treatment court could be a criminal conviction but with a suspended sentence and no imprisonment if treatment is completed. Put another way, the treatment court would add to the “suite” of options available to deal with an act or acts of sexual violence, that goes from least interventionist (an apology offered as part of an alternative process) to most interventionist (imprisonment) with a treatment court option in the middle.

5.100However, what also became apparent during consultation was the degree of extra research required to give effect to this proposal. One reason is because the design of the court, and whether it would address the problems raised by submitters, relies on empirical evidence that has not yet been gathered or is not yet available.

5.101To discuss these matters we met with researcher Danica McGovern who is currently completing a PhD thesis that examines what would be required to implement a model similar to that proposed in the Issues Paper.429 The initial intention was to develop a model for a “treatment track” for those who plead guilty to sexual violence offences which could be implemented in New Zealand, but it became clear in the early stages of the research that much more work was needed before such a model could be developed or its feasibility evaluated. As such, the thesis will examine three areas of further work required: the aims of a treatment track; its theoretical framework; and the development of a risk assessment framework for use in that context.430

5.102Therefore we note the support expressed for the proposal and its potential to address the problems above, depending on how it is designed. We note the need for additional research to be undertaken before those design questions can be resolved. We recommend that the Government consider the desirability of funding a long-term research project to examine these matters.


426Law Commission, above n 354, proposal 5.
427Law Commission, above n 347, at 99-105.
428At 99.
429The model explored in the thesis differs in some respects from the model outlined in the Issues Paper, but both would rely on evidence and research of a similar nature to support their design and implementation.
430Email correspondence between Danica McGovern and the Law Commission (9 November 2015). The thesis is due to be completed at the end of 2016.