Self-defence law proposal for victims who kill their abusers

By Harata Brown

The New Zealand Law Commission is proposing criminal law reform to better serve victims of family violence who kill their abusers.

In their latest report, 'Understanding Family Violence: Reforming the Criminal Law Relating to Homicide,' the Law Commission proposes that a victim of family abuse should be able to claim self-defense even when they are responding to a threat that is not imminent.

Justice Minister Amy Adams has welcomed the Commission’s report.

She says, “A terrible consequence of family violence is that some victims are driven to killing their abusers – as a result of often years of abuse.”

Current legislation requires that a claim of self-defense needs to be imminent.

Minister Adams says, “The Law Commission’s proposals around self-defence would represent a significant departure from the law of self-defence as it currently stands and therefore needs careful thought and discussion, but we need to ensure the law appropriately responds to victims of family violence."

Justice Minister Adam’s is set to consider the Commission’s recommendations as part of their work to address family violence.

New Zealand has the highest reported rate of family violence in the developed world.

The Law Commission’s recommendations include:

* Continued education to support an improved understanding of family violence among judges, lawyers, and Police.

* Reforms to the Crimes Act 1961 and Evidence Act 2006 to improve the accessibility of self-defence to victims of family violence.

* Reforms to the Sentencing Act 2002 to promote consistent consideration of a history of family violence as a mitigating factor in sentencing.

* That the Ministry of Justice consider how the “three strikes” legislation applies to victims of family violence who commit homicide and how it could be amended to allow judges to impose a sentence other than life imprisonment in deserving cases.