Family violence experts in the criminal court: the need to fill the void

Prof Mark Henaghan1,4, Dr  Jacqueline Short2,4, Dr Pauline Gulliver3,4

1University of Auckland, Auckland, New Zealand, 2Te Korowai Whariki Central Regional Forensic Service, Wellington, New Zealand, 3Health Quality & Safety Commission, Wellington, New Zealand, 4Family Violence Death Review Committee, Wellington, New Zealand

In this presentation, we will describe the role of family violence expert evidence and argue for the need for adequately trained and experienced specialists to provide that evidence within the criminal jurisdiction of the District Court and High Court in Aotearoa New Zealand.

Initially, we will review roles and the requirements of expert witnesses in cases of family violence. Given the lack of expert witness training in Aotearoa New Zealand, this has been drawn from components of best practice in other jurisdictions.

Unique skills and experience are necessary for an accurate description of a history of family violence. We will draw on the recommendations from other jurisdictions to outline why experience working with survivors and offenders provides a more detailed understanding of the nature and dynamics of violence experienced within a relationship. We will also draw on examples from case law in Aotearoa New Zealand to highlight how detailed understandings can address myths and misconceptions, particularly in relation to the effective nature of the current family violence safety system.

Without a contemporary, comprehensive understanding of family violence across police prosecution, judges and lawyers, expert evidence from trained and experienced specialists is required. To enhance the educative role of family violence expert evidence, we will highlight why such evidence should be called by the Court, and the benefit of having it presented through an inquisitorial, rather than adversarial approach.


Mark Henaghan is a Professor at the University of Auckland Faculty of Law and is a Barrister and Solicitor of the High Court of New Zealand. Professor Henaghan specialises in all aspects of family law and is particularly interested in the prevention of domestic violence, as children’s rights, relationship property, medical law, and international family law, and the prevention of domestic violence and child abuse.

Jackie Short is a Clinical Director of Te Korowai Whariki Central Regional Forensic Service. She has longstanding interest in the care of female mentally disordered offenders. She has chaired a national working party that produced a report on the standards of care for women in secure mental health services in New Zealand and is a former Chair of the national Women in Secure Care Committee. She has served on the Wellington Regional FVDR Panel, the Family Violence Intervention Programme steering group for Capital & Coast DHB, and is a former Chair of the Overseas Trained Psychiatrists Committee of the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists and a former executive committee member of the New Zealand branch of the Forensic Faculty of the College.

Pauline Gulliver is the Senior Specialist for the Family Violence Death Review Committee.

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