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Calls for family violence homicide changes

NZ NewswireNZ Newswire 11/05/2016 By Sarah Robson

There could be radical changes to the way the law deals with family violence victims who kill their abusers, if the government takes on board the recommendations of a new Law Commission report.

The report, released on Thursday, calls for changes to the Crimes Act to allow defendants in such cases to claim self-defence, even if they're not under imminent threat of attack.

While the majority of intimate partner homicides are committed by men who have a history of violence against their partner, there are a small number - less than five per cent of all homicides in New Zealand - where a victim of family violence kills their abuser.

Most are women who have endured years of trauma and abuse.

"It became clear in reviewing and reflecting on the abuse suffered by victims of family violence who kill their abusers that, in many cases, the final acts of homicide were acts of desperation," Law Commission president Sir Grant Hammond said.

New Zealand has no specific legislation to deal with these rare cases and under the current law, to claim self-defence, there must be a threat of imminent attack.

Lead commissioner Wayne Mapp said the law doesn't properly reflect the experience of a woman trapped in a cycle of family violence, where there has been a long history of abuse - rather than just a single encounter.

To address this, the Law Commission wants a new provision to clarify that self-defence can apply in family violence cases, even when the threat isn't imminent.

Dr Mapp said similar changes have already been made by the likes of Australia, the United Kingdom and Canada, and New Zealand law is in fact out-of-step in this regard.

Justice Minister Amy Adams, who requested the report, said the proposals around self-defence would represent a "significant departure from the law of self-defence as it currently stands".

However, she said the recommendations would be given careful thought and consideration, given the need to ensure the law appropriately responds to victims of family violence.

"There has to be a recognition that victims of perpetual, long standing, very demoralising family violence are in a very different space in terms of the options that are open to them," Ms Adams told reporters.

"The law has to deal with that in a way that's fair."

The report released on Thursday is the third completed by the Law Commission on family and sexual violence.

The government is considering the recommendations of all three reports.

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