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Victims should be at centre of domestic violence measures

Serious measures to stem our appalling record of domestic violence are overdue but creating another Ministry of Justice adviser and abolishing fair trial rights for alleged offenders will make little difference, Labour's Justice spokesperson Andrew Little says.

The Government today announced a number of measures to address domestic violence including creating a chief victims adviser and allowing courts to draw a negative conclusion if an alleged offender doesn't personally give evidence in a trial.

"The people who most need advice are the victims themselves, not the Minister who has access to an army of public servants to advise her every day.

"It is the victim who needs help navigating a police investigation and a criminal justice system that often overlooks that they are even there.

"Victims need a court-based advocate so they know what is going on, what they can do, how they can have a say and what their rights are as a witness in any trial.

"As for trials of sexual offences, the reason why many victims either don't lay a complaint or don't go through with one is fear of the court process and the likelihood of humiliation and re-victimisation.

"Allowing an adverse inference to be drawn if an alleged offender doesn't give evidence is an open invitation for defence counsel to be even more aggressive in their cross-examination.

"A better measure would be to hand control of all examination of a victim to the judge with lawyers for both sides notifying the court which issues they want dealt with, along with shifting the burden of proof on the issue of consent to the defence.

"This approach does not contradict the fundamental principle that a defendant is innocent until proven guilty - the basic facts of the case still have to be made out - but it does mean the prosecution doesn't need to prove a negative, namely that there was no consent.

"Judith Collins’ approach is as good as the defendant being regarded as guilty until proven innocent, something she says she is opposed to,” Andrew Little said.

Labour's policy on dealing with domestic violence will be announced on Friday.