Story: Domestic violence

Page 4. Law and policing changes – 1980s and beyond

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Domestic Protection Act 1982

The first law to address domestic violence specifically was the Domestic Protection Act 1982. This provided for non-violence and non-molestation orders, to be made on application to the district or family court.

A non-violence order applied to a person who had used or threatened violence against their partner or children living in the same household. This person could be arrested and held for 24 hours.

The non-molestation order prevented a separated partner from stalking the applicant or entering their property. It ceased to apply if the couple began living together again.

In addition, occupation and tenancy orders were available to enable the applicant to keep living in a previously shared home. A 1986 amendment introduced mandatory stopping-violence programmes for perpetrators of intimate partner violence.

Police policy changes

Police adopted a more assertive approach to domestic violence incidents in 1987 after a trial in Hamilton. Recognising the risk of retribution faced by women with violent partners, they decided to arrest offenders if an assault was detected, rather than waiting for the victim to make a complaint. They also began referring victims to Women’s Refuge for immediate support.

Domestic Violence Act 1995

A study of continued breaches of orders in 1992 found that the police pro-arrest policy was poorly implemented, that offenders often received very light sentences, and that intimidation and harassment were often not seen as sufficient reasons for granting orders. Many of the study’s recommendations were incorporated in the Domestic Violence Act 1995.

Under the 1995 Act the definition of domestic violence was broadened to encompass psychological and sexual as well as physical violence. It was also applied to a wider range of relationships, in recognition that family members, same-sex partners, flatmates, carers and anyone close to the victim could use power-and-control violence. Causing or allowing a child to witness abuse was also defined as domestic violence.

The protection order replaced the non-violence and non-molestation orders, applying equally to offenders living with or separated from the victim. As with the previous orders, it could be granted without notice to the respondent. Before 1995 a hearing was held to decide whether an order should become permanent, but now this happened automatically unless the respondent made a legal challenge. Penalties for breaching protection orders were raised, and increased in severity with each breach. Offenders were expected to attend stopping-violence programmes.

Mediation or murder?

One of the problems with the Domestic Protection Act 1982 was that the Family Court often tried to resolve conflict through counselling. This proved inappropriate in cases of domestic violence, as often the meetings exposed women to abuse and intimidation. One woman was killed by her former partner as she left court-ordered counselling.1

A related amendment to the Guardianship Act 1968 prevented violent partners who had been served with a protection order from having access to their children unless the courts were satisfied they would be safe. This was to prevent people from killing their children to take revenge on an estranged partner.

Reviewing the act

Although many people working to reduce domestic violence agreed that the Domestic Violence Act 1995 was good legislation, it did not protect many women and children. Between 1995 and 2007, when the act was reviewed, more than 200 women and children died in domestic-violence-related homicides.

Not stopping violence

Battered women surveyed for the 2007 review of the Domestic Violence Act often stated that, in their experience, court-ordered stopping-violence programmes for their partners did not work. Men refused to attend or did not complete the courses.

The 2007 review concluded that implementation of the act was often inadequate. It found that the conditions under which a temporary protection order was granted had been tightened, and that breaches of protection orders were not always followed up by police, particularly if they did not involve physical violence. Men breaching protection orders were rarely convicted, and those who were received light sentences. Some men successfully applied to have protection orders discharged, even when they had breached them, and gained custody of or continued access to children.

Domestic Violence (Enhancing Safety) Act 2009

This act introduced safety orders, enabling police to remove the alleged offender from the home for up to five days to ensure the immediate safety of the victim. These orders were to be used in situations where there was insufficient evidence to arrest the person, but reason to believe domestic violence could occur. Judges were allowed to issue protection orders when sentencing an offender, penalties for breaching protection orders were stiffened, and those failing to attend a court-ordered programme could be imprisoned for up to six months.

Recent family violence legislation

In September 2016 the Government announced the overhaul of legislation relating to family violence and the allocation of $130 million to fund more police officers and social workers to respond to families in which there were extreme versions of family violence. A new range of offences would be created and there would be more support for the victims of domestic violence. 

The Ministerial Working Group on Family and Sexual Violence identified the need for 53 law changes across a number of different pieces of legislation including the Domestic Violence Act, the Care of Children Act and the Crimes Act. These legal changes followed the production of a discussion paper in 2015 on Strengthening New Zealand’s Legislative Response to Family Violence and analysis of public submissions relating to this document.

The foreshadowed changes were supported by the National Collective of Independent Women's Refuges. They stated that: 'The changes made to support and strengthen legislation, including Protection Orders, are important as they highlight and address the serious and insidious patterned behaviour that underpins family violence; it also sends a strong message to those that continue to abuse that there will be serious consequences.'2

In December 2016 Green Party MP Jan Logie introduced the Domestic Violence – Victims' Protection Bill 2016. The Bill passed its first reading on 8 March. The aim of this legislation is to protect victims of domestic violence by provisions that allow them to request variation in their employment arrangements. It provided for a minimum entitlement to 10 days paid leave to deal with the effects of domestic violence. The Justice and Electoral Committee will report to parliament on this legislation on 29 March 2018.

The Family and Whānau Violence Legislation Bill was introduced by Hon. Amy Adams in March 2017. It included significant amendments to the Domestic Violence Act 1995 and changes to other relevant legislation. The new legislation supported a cross-government approach to family violence as well as clear codes of practice and new information sharing strategies. It included mechanisms for improving the effectiveness of police safety orders and protection orders.  It also created new criminal offences and provisions for more accurate recording of family violence.

This Bill passed its first reading and the Select Committee reported back to parliament on 16 August 2017. The 2017 General Election in September 2017 occurred before this legislation went to a third reading. The New Zealand Labour Party (in government since October 2017) while welcoming a review of domestic violence legislation, was critical of aspects of the Bill. New legislation in this field is likely to come before parliament in 2018.

  1. Neville Robertson and others, Living at the cutting edge: women’s experience of protection orders, Vol. 1. Hamilton: University of Waikato, 2007, p.6. Back
  2. Ang Jury, quoted in Women’s Refuge welcomes family violence legislation changes, media release, 13 September 2016, Women's Refuge New Zealand.  Back
How to cite this page:

Nancy Swarbrick, 'Domestic violence - Law and policing changes – 1980s and beyond', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 14 June 2024)

Story by Nancy Swarbrick, published 5 May 2011, reviewed & revised 19 Jul 2018