January 30, 2004
Handling sexual abuse
Letter to the Editor
by John Anderson (Parnell)
MacLennan on your Perspectives page [NZ Herald, 27
Jan 04] claimed there was unanimity at a forum about the prosecution of
sexual offences. I was there and that was not my recollection. Some of her
points were :
The public issues committee of the Auckland District Law Society claimed that
there was a substantial underreporting of sexual crimes. Yet a senior
(female) police officer stated that the police estimated false complaints at
some 60 [sixty] per cent.
Insulting and degrading questions should be banned. But section 14 of the
Evidence Act 1908 allows for this.
The admission of agreed facts. This is practised. Where consent is the issue,
an agreement on facts might shorten trials, but it would have little effect
on the experience of the complainant in court. She (or he) would still need
to be questioned to test credibility.
The right to silence should be removed. Why should this be done purely for
one type of offence ? The consequences for victims of, say, grievous bodily
harm or attempted murder might be more serious than rape. Sexual offences
should have the same standard of proof as all other, particularly with the
danger of false complaints.
One of the points made was that the starting point for sentencing might be
too high (eight years' jail). More variation in sentencing might produce more
guilty pleas, without reducing the right to a fair trial by a gerrymandering
of the law and the possibility of miscarriages of justice. The disquiet over
the Peter Ellis case should show the dangers of further weakening the