Minister of Justice Simon Power has been talking for some time about introducing an inquisitorial system for cases involving child complainants and for complainants in sex crimes. Of course, he uses the ploy of referring to “child victims” and “sex abuse victims” to manipulate the public towards believing that all such complainants are necessarily victims of real crime, a good example of “begging the question”. But that’s a minor issue.
The term “inquisitorial” is apt given that the Inquisitions were always based on propaganda-fuelled superstition that from the late middle ages included witch-hunting. Power plans to remove lawyers and the process of cross-examination from sexual trials, and plans to remove the need for complainants to tell their story in Court at all (relying instead on statements they made at the time they first complained). On National Radio, 21 June 2010 he stated that Austria used a “hybrid” system for child complainants in which their initial allegations are allowed to stand in the hearing
“so you didn’t have the two years down the track a child being cross-examined on something that occurred when they were 5 or 6 years old and being asked to verify or have their credibility tested as to the veracity of that evidence when they were 7 or 8 years old”.
He also claimed that
“the process at the moment could be regarded as just simply too brutal on those types of victims and witnesses”
“I’m very interested in any notion that makes the Court system less brutal for those victims of child abuse, child violence and sexual violence”.
So Power wants the Court to stop testing child complainants’ credibility and the veracity of their evidence. But isn’t that what a hearing is for? He also decided it would be a good idea to extend the Austrian-style approach to adult sex abuse complainants as well. A year earlier he proposed
“the introduction of a positive definition of sexual consent and allowing the complainant’s sexual history to be heard only at the judge’s discretion”,
and he was quoted as saying
“All we are saying here is that avoid an individual, but largely a woman, in a court situation being confronted with those types of questions in that type of forum, with no notice, is not acceptable”.
His muddled wording throughout his statements is indicative of the muddled thinking underlying his ideas.
Firstly, my understanding is that NZ law has for a long time required the judge’s permission for any cross-examination of sexual complainants relating to their own sexual history. ItÃ¯Â¿Â½’ difficult to believe that our Minister of Justice was not aware of this.
Secondly, although a logical argument might be mounted for considering changes regarding child complainants, no justification is obvious for applying those changes to sexual allegations. Why might it be any more traumatic for someone to tell a Court about their experience of a sexual offence than, for example, to tell a Court about being permanently disabled through a gang robbery and beating (when the gang has also threatened to kill the complainant and family if (s)he testifies), or a terrifying home invasion, or a frightening accident caused by a drunk driver? (In fact, genuine victims of such offences will often welcome the opportunity to tell their story in Court and hold the offenders accountable; why is it assumed that this would not be so for genuine victims of sexual offences?) The key difference simply amounts to gender: women are much more likely than men to be complainants about sexual offences, unlike most other forms of crime. Power’s statement a year ago showed his true motivation: to appeal to women’s vote by further increasing their advantage over men in the legal system, possibly based on some sense of anachronistic chivalry. How can it be acceptable to base our legal system on gender privilege?
I can already hear the feminists object that only a small proportion of sexual offence trials result in a conviction, and that a much smaller proportion of offences are ever reported. They will claim that women don’t report sexual crimes because the Court system treats them so badly. Well, sexual complainants are already given special treatment in a variety of ways, and they won’t face any worse treatment in the process than other complainants for other alleged offences. It is true that sexual allegations are especially difficult to prove, given that they usually come down to “he said, she said”, there are no witnesses and there are often complex disputes concerning the complainant’s consent, memory and impairment through drugs or alcohol. It does not help that many complainants fail to protect any forensic evidence and then expect the system to convict based purely on their word. What Simon Power proposes will do exactly that; he wants the law to enable women to achieve easier conviction and imprisonment of men by simply pointing a finger at them with no need to bring better evidence.
Thirdly, the changes Power seeks will not achieve greater justice. Justice requires fairness towards both complainants and accused. A longstanding principle fundamental to our justice system has been that greater injustice is caused by punishing a truly innocent person than by acquitting a truly guilty person (or even 100 guilty people). That seems reasonable, especially given that complainants have at least had their opportunity to stand up and accuse someone publicly while every accused person of serious crimes will already have been punished severely regardless of the trial’s outcome, for example through financial loss, loss of reputation and health damage due to stress. Unlike, for example, genetic evidence, Power’s proposed changes provide nothing to increase the ability of a judge or jury to distinguish between true and false allegations but are simply procedural changes that serve to lower the goalposts for achieving conviction. Any resulting increase in correct convictions of truly guilty defendants will be accompanied by a similar increase in false convictions of truly innocent defendants. This will simply sacrifice more innocent men in a quest to reduce a claimed number of true offenders who go unconvicted. It amounts to a cynical disregard for men’s welfare and human rights.
Fourthly, Power’s description of the Court process for these particular complainants as “brutal” was manipulative and incorrect. It may be that the Court process is “brutal” towards evidence that is dishonest, inconsistent or unconvincing, but so it should be. That applies just as much to the defendant’s evidence, but he is the only person in the trial whose treatment could realistically be called brutal, especially if falsely accused. For child witnesses and complainants, I doubt that any judge would allow a brutal process. Cases I have observed have always involved a very protective judge and all cross-examination is carried out using appropriate language in gentle, patient and supportive style. A child will often be cross-examined through video while (s)he sits in a separate room with an adult support person. The law was recently changed to enable child complainants to have their evidence-in-chief presented via a pre-recorded evidential video interview rather than having to tell their story in person. For adult sexual complainants, how is the Court process any more brutal than for any other adult complainant? If you allege that your neighbour threatened to kill you, you can be sure your neighbour’s lawyer will closely test any inconsistencies in your story and will bring up anything available that might show you are not a credible complainant. If that’s not ok then Power’s changes should apply to all cases, not just sexual ones that mainly involve women. And as pointed out above, it’s unlikely that recounting one’s story of sexual assault would be any more traumatic or “brutal” than recounting many other crimes. Ironically, Power’s proposal implies that women complainants need to be treated like children.
Like most men I am keen to see true sexual offenders convicted, punished and helped to avoid further offending. But the changes Power proposes are blatant misandry, a further degradation of men as an underclass in NZ. Already, for little reason other than the likely gender of the offender, sentence ranges for sexual offending are disproportionate to other serious crimes that might harm, maim or permanently disable victims, especially when those victims are male. Power’s changes amount to totalitarianism against men, a convenient way of imprisoning them for long periods on weak evidence. His speech to Women’s Refuge a few days ago showed, among other things, his supportive acceptance of their current misandrist propaganda campaign and for women’s ability to have men thrown out on the street at will. Sadly, by the time most NZ men wake up to what’s happening they will be powerless to object without being sent to jail. Simon Power is an enemy of men, as is his party that supports his feminist war on the male gender.