Chapter 1
Scope, context and approach

Context of this review

The Family Violence Death Review Committee

1.4The impetus for this Report is a recommendation from the Family Violence Death Review Committee (FVDRC) that the Government:36
1.5These recommendations were made in the FVDRC’s Fourth Annual Report, published in June 2014, which reported that, over the period 2009–2012, there were 126 family violence deaths. The FVDRC identified that 10 family violence deaths involved a killing by a victim of family violence of their abusive partner.37 The defendants in all those cases were women. A further three deaths involved killings by children who had been abused by fathers or step-fathers and had witnessed their mothers being abused.38
1.6The FVDRC observed that victims of family violence who kill their abusers are usually charged with murder and, if convicted, can face long terms of imprisonment rather than having their long-term history of victimisation and, at times, extreme abuse recognised in the criminal justice response to their crimes.39 The FVDRC concluded, as a result, that victims of family violence who kill their abusers are not well served by the New Zealand justice system. The FVDRC observed that, compared with similar international jurisdictions:40

… Aotearoa New Zealand is out of step in how the criminal justice system responds to [intimate partner violence] primary victims when they face homicide charges for killing their abusive partners … Firstly, it can be attributed to the fact that the defence of self-defence has been interpreted in a restrictive manner in Aotearoa New Zealand, making it difficult to apply in cases involving primary victims. Secondly, by abolishing provocation New Zealand now has no partial defences to murder for those primary victims whose circumstances do not fit within the full defence of self-defence. These defendants will now be convicted of murder rather than manslaughter. And thirdly, Aotearoa New Zealand retains a presumption of life imprisonment for murder, which is difficult to overturn even in such cases and, when it is overturned, still results in long sentences of imprisonment. As such the violent circumstances (that offenders who were [primary victims] were entrapped in and responding to) do not appear to be reflected in local verdicts to the same degree as they are in comparable international jurisdictions.

Government family violence initiativesTop

1.7Also in 2014, the Minister of Justice and the Minister for Social Development announced that family violence and sexual violence are amongst their top priorities and undertook a package of initiatives.41 One of the key initiatives was publication in August 2015 of a discussion document about strengthening the legal response to family violence. Within the scope of the review are the Domestic Violence Act 1995, the Care of Children Act 2004, the Crimes Act 1961, the Bail Act 2000 and the Sentencing Act 2002.

1.8Submissions on that document closed in September 2015, and a report is likely in mid-2016.

Law Commission projects on family violence and sexual violenceTop

1.9This review is one of three family violence or sexual violence projects referred to the Commission.42 The other two were:

This reference was tabled in Parliament in December 2015.

This reference was tabled in Parliament in March 2016.

36Family Violence Death Review Committee, above n 28, at 20.
37At 42. This included one suspected case. In its submission on our Issues Paper the Family Violence Death Review Committee reported that it had identified a further three intimate partner homicides committed by a victim of family violence between 2012 and 2014: Family Violence Death Review Committee submission at 9.
38At 65. The circumstances of the three intrafamilial deaths reviewed by the Family Violence Death Review Committee are not clear. In particular, it is unclear whether the deceased was the abusive father/step-father, or another family member. If they were not, those cases are outside our terms of reference. As we discuss in Chapter 2, however, two of the 24 cases we reviewed involved children killing parents.
39At 19.
40At 102.
41Cabinet Paper “Progress on the Work Programme of the Ministerial Group on Family Violence and Sexual Violence” (22 July 2015) SOC 15/68.
42The reports are available to download from the Law Commission’s website at <>.
43Law Commission The Justice Response to Victims of Sexual Violence: Criminal Trials and Alternative Processes (NZLC R136, 2015).
44Law Commission Strangulation: The Case for a New Offence (NZLC R138, 2016).