Rough justice

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Only a quarter of family violence charges heard in the Queenstown District Court led to convictions last year, a figure the head of Women’s Refuge believes may be one of the lowest in the country.

Ministry of Justice stats show while 67 per cent of family violence charges nationwide led to convictions in the 2017/18 year, that figure dropped to 26 per cent in Queenstown.

And that may have an impact on whether victims are willing to go through the court process at all, NZ Women’s Refuge boss Dr Ang Jury says.

“I would have expected them to be roughly in line with the rest of the country,” she says.

She’s also surprised by the small number of charges themselves.

“Either Queenstown’s the safest, warmest, cuddliest little city, or there’s something else sitting in underneath.”

There were 46 people charged in the Queenstown court with one of the three ‘family harm’ offences – breaching a protection order, common assault (domestic), or male assaults female. Of those, 12 were convicted.

A further 24 were in the ‘other proved’ category, meaning they either received a discharge without conviction or police diversion.

There were 12 protection orders dealt out in the past year.

But Otago Lakes area commander Inspector Olaf Jensen says there’s a range of charges from family harm events, so the three referred to in the ministry stats “will not be a fully accurate picture of family harm prosecutions”.

Jury says if people don’t believe what they’re reporting is going to be “dealt with appropriately, they might well think they’re not going to bother”.

“It’s human nature.”

Mountain Scene reported earlier in the year that police in the resort were called to an average of one domestic incident each day.

Scene requested an interview with Queenstown cops, but was instead sent an emailed statement attributed to Jensen.

Along with noting the range of charges, he says: “It is also important to be careful when comparing family harm matters with national figures or district-by-district, as there are a number of initiatives around the country such as Family Violence Courts which could impact on comparable conviction rates.”

He says diversion’s considered on set criteria, and it’s ultimately a matter for judges to decide.

An assault sentencing in the court sparked controversy last year, when Judge John Brandts-Giesen discharged a Queenstown man without conviction after he assaulted his wife, a male friend and his daughter.

When discharging the man, Brandts-Giesen described the incident as a “nasty assault”.

But, he said, the man’s actions were understandable in the circumstances and there would be “many people” who would have done the same.

The sentence was later overturned and the man re-sentenced by the High Court.

daisy.hudson@scene.co.nz