Prosecuting sexual assault cases – new approach?

By Anna Sandiford 03/02/2015

When Judith Collins was Minister for Justice she suspended Law Commission work on alternative models for prosecuting criminal cases.   The Law Commission had originally been asked to consider alternative models by the earlier Justice Minister, Simon Power.  A paper was released in February 2012 entitled “Alternative Pre-trial and Trial Processes: Possible Reforms” – so a lot of work went into it and then over 500 submissions were received on it.  Then Judith Collins stopped it.

A particular loss from this review from my perspective as a forensic scientist was the potential for specialist judges and lawyers to be trained and appointed to deal with sexual assault and rape cases.  These cases are, understandably, emotive and can be extremely emotionally and psychologically draining for all parties, including the court and the lawyers.  The forensic science in these cases can be complicated, particularly regarding transfer and persistence of body fluids and DNA on samples collected from intimate parts of the body; where injuries occur, particularly internal ones, these can be traumatic for the unwary to have to address.  Explaining the interpretation of these results in court can be a challenge.

But Judith Collins suspended the review that could reduce the stress and make the process easier for everyone.  Thankfully, the new Minister Amy Adams has at least directed the Law Commission to resume its suspended work “with a particular focus on sexual offence cases, to identify best practice for improving the court experience of complainants”.

I hope there is a good outcome.