Safer Sooner: Strengthening family violence laws

The Ministry of Justice has reviewed the Domestic Violence Act 1995 and related family violence laws. The review's purpose was to look at how the laws could be strengthened to prevent family violence and improve how agencies respond.

The Prime Minister announced the review in July 2014 as part of a series of initiatives to better respond to family violence. The review was part of the wider cross-government Ministerial Work programme on family violence and sexual violence, co-chaired by the Minister of Justice and Minister for Social Development.

Proposed changes to family violence law

Cabinet agreed a package of changes to family violence laws in August 2016. The public was consulted in August - September 2015 as part of the review and nearly 500 submissions were received in response. These submissions helped inform the reforms.

For more information about the 2015 consultation, see Better family violence law (external link)

The changes focus on intervening earlier to prevent future violence. The changes will strengthen civil and criminal laws, and support agencies to work together to respond to family violence. This includes supporting more consistent understanding and identification of the characteristics of family violence. As a result, victims will be safer and perpetrators will be stopped from using violence.

The table below summarises the key changes.

The Act does not have enough guidance

The Act will provide better guidance about what family violence is and how to use the Act:

  • Objectives prioritise victim safety and reducing perpetrator violence
  • New principles to guide decisions
  • Clarify what the definition includes
Victims can find protection orders difficult to apply for, due to a complicated process and costs of legal advice

Protection orders will be easier to apply for:

  • Simpler application forms
  • Non-government organisations (NGOs) can apply on behalf of particularly vulnerable victims who are unable to apply themselves
  • Pilot funded approved NGOs to help victims with applications
  • Protection orders can be better tailored to vulnerable victims, for example older people and people with disabilities
Opportunities to intervene early and support perpetrators to stop using violence aren’t maximised

More effective at helping perpetrators change their behaviour:

  • Independent risk and needs assessment pathway created for self and Police safety order referrals
  • Under protection orders, courts can direct perpetrators to further programmes and wider range of services
When parents separate, perpetrators may use parenting arrangements as an opportunity to continue to use violence against adult and child victims

Better protect the safety of adult and child victims following separation:

  • Courts must consider extra family violence factors when assessing a child’s safety in Care of Children Act (CoCA) proceedings eg, whether a temporary protection order has been made and any breaches
  • Pilot funded supervised handover service
  • More information sharing between CoCA and criminal cases to identify any history of family violence
Family violence offending isn’t consistently identified or recorded in the criminal justice system

Family violence offences are clearly flagged:

  • Additional information is available to judges and Police
  • Perpetrators who use family violence can be treated differently at bail and sentencing
  • Better information about family violence volumes and trends
Existing offences don’t clearly criminalise all family violence behaviours

Ensuring family violence is effectively prosecuted:

  • New family violence offences of strangulation, coercion to marry, and assault on a family member

If you'd like to learn more about these changes, please see:

Safer Sooner publication [PDF, 7.9 MB]

Safer sooner factsheet [PDF, 675 KB]

Cabinet paper 1: Context and supporting integrated responses [PDF, 1.2 MB]

Cabinet paper 2: Family violence civil law [PDF, 1.4 MB]

Cabinet paper 3: Prosecuting family violence [PDF, 4.7 MB]

Next steps

Hon Amy Adams, Minister of Justice will introduce a Family Violence Bill to Parliament in the coming months.  People will have the opportunity to comment on details of the proposed law when the Bill is considered at Select Committee. 

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