Canada looks to NZ Law Commission for inspiration

Publication Date 
03 July 2017

Canada is looking at a New Zealand Law Commission report to help it lift its conviction rate for crimes of sexual assault.

Earlier this year Kate McKenzie-Bridle represented the Law Commission at a Canadian Government Knowledge Exchange on the Criminal Justice System’s Responses to Sexual Assault against Adults.

The Canadian Department of Justice was interested in the Commission's report The Justice Response to Victims of Sexual Violence: Criminal Trials and Alternative Processes (NZLC R136, 2015).

Kate McKenzie-Bridle says Canadians are proud of their sexual offence criminal code provisions which protect complainants, yet they are questioning why rates of reporting, prosecution, and conviction still remain low.

In addition, just prior to the Knowledge Exchange the national Canadian newspaper Globe and Mail had uncovered a widespread national police practice of categorising significant numbers of sexual violence complaints as unfounded, due to lack of evidence, or police not believing complainants.

Canadians were therefore interested to hear of New Zealand’s innovative practices around restorative justice and the Commission’s recommendations for change in the form of a specialist sexual violence court and an alternative to the adversarial process - in order to deal with sexual violence outside of the court context,” says Kate McKenzie-Bridle.1

She says New Zealand can also learn from Canada.

"Canada incorporates trauma-inspired practice into the criminal justice system. This involves better understanding research on the neurobiology of trauma and its relevance for sexual assault investigations and prosecutions."2


1. These recommendations are set out in the Law Commission's report, to which the New Zealand Government made an initial response last year. In its response the Government noted that “given the complexity of the issues and deeply sensitive nature of this area (particularly for victims for sexual violence) further analysis is needed to establish an achievable and effective programme for change.” The Government has therefore directed the Ministry of Justice to conduct this further analysis and once completed, the Government will form a final view on the Law Commission’s recommendations.

2. Clinical psychologist Dr Lori Haskell gave a presentation at the Knowledge Exchange noting:  that best practice is not to interview victims for 48 hours after the traumatic incident (in order for memories to consolidate); understanding that victims will have a freeze response; that naturally released opioids may give the victim a flat effect with little show of emotion; and victims may dissociate to protect themselves so may not recall obvious things such as the face of the accused.