Chapter 1
Scope, context and approach


1.1Family violence destroys lives and takes a significant toll on New Zealand society. New Zealand has the highest reported rate of family violence in the developed world,27 and nearly half of all homicides are related to family violence.28 Disproportionately, family violence affects the lives of women and children,29 and women are overwhelmingly more likely to be killed by an intimate partner than commit homicide themselves.30 The consequences of family violence can be devastating both for the victims and their families. Discussing intimate partner violence, Jane Maslow Cohen writes:31

Terrible and tragic things happen within the contexts of battering relationships, even beyond the violence and resultant injury itself. These tragedies include the death of the battered victim; the physical and psychological abuse of others, especially children, within the household; the destruction of employment situations and opportunities; the withering away of basic trust, particularly trust in intimacy; and, often, the waste of what might, and should, have been rewarding and productive lives.

1.2Unsurprisingly, most family violence homicides are committed by those who have a history of perpetrating violence, usually against the deceased.32 Most homicide offenders are men.33 In a very small number of cases, accounting for less than five per cent of all homicides in New Zealand, a victim of family violence kills their abuser.34 In intimate partner killings, these offenders are almost always women.35 Whatever their gender or relationship to an aggressor, however, victims of family violence who kill their abusers have typically suffered years of physical, sexual and/or psychological abuse that can be severe and extreme.

1.3In this Report, we consider how the law responds to victims of family violence who commit homicide and whether the law can be improved.

27Ministry of Justice Strengthening New Zealand’s legislative response to family violence: A public discussion document (Wellington, August 2015).
28There were 139 family violence-related homicides in the period 2009–2012 out of a total 297 homicides. See Family Violence Death Review Committee Fourth Annual Report: January 2013 to December 2013 (Health Quality & Safety Commission, June 2014) at 32 and 35; and Ministry of Justice, above n 27.
29State of Victoria Royal Commission into Family Violence: Summary and recommendations (Parl Paper No 132, March 2016) at 18.
30Between 2009 and 2012 three-quarters of intimate partner homicide offenders were men, and almost three-quarters of victims were women. See Family Violence Death Review Committee, above n 28, at 39.
31Jane Maslow Cohen “Regimes of Private Tyranny: What Do They Mean to Morality and for the Criminal Law?” (1995) 57 U Pitt L Rev 757 at 762.
32The Family Violence Death Review Committee reported that, for the period 2009–2014, the homicide offender was the predominant/suspected predominant aggressor in 82 per cent of intimate partner homicides where the abuse history was known: Family Violence Death Review Committee submission at 9.
33In the past 10 years in New Zealand, 84 per cent of homicide offenders were male: Statistics New Zealand “Adults convicted in court by sentence type – most serious offence fiscal year” <>.
34Or less than 10 per cent of family violence homicides. This is based on the Family Violence Death Review Committee’s identification, in the period 2009–2012, of nine cases where a female primary victim killed a male predominant aggressor and one further suspected case, out of a total of 126 family violence homicides and 297 total homicides: Family Violence Death Review Committee, above n 28, at 34 and 75. An earlier study undertaken by the Ministry of Social Development identified two cases in the five years from 2002–2006 of a female against male homicide where there was documented evidence of the male’s violence towards the female in the past and in the context of the event. This accounted for 1.5 per cent of family violence deaths and 0.7 per cent of total homicides for that same period: Jennifer Martin and Rhonda Pritchard Learning from Tragedy: Homicide within Families in New Zealand 2002-2006 (Ministry of Social Development, April 2010) at 38.
35The Family Violence Death Review Committee identified 13 intimate partner homicides between 2009 and 2014 in which a victim of intimate partner violence killed their abuser, all of whom were women: Family Violence Death Review Committee submission at 9.