New Zealand Herald

26 August 1999

Law review will make wives tell

By Angela Gregory
New Zealand Herald

Women abused by their husbands could be compelled to give evidence against them in court if the Government acts on a Law Commission recommendation.

Under present law, husbands and wives cannot be forced to give evidence against each other.

But a change to this law is one of the recommendations in the commission's report on the laws of evidence.

Ten years in the making, the report and a proposed code to replace the Evidence Act and case law were presented yesterday to the Minister of Justice, Tony Ryall.

Law Commissioner Judge Margaret Lee said recommending that wives be compelled to testify against their husbands had been difficult.

Although women still living with abusive husbands could endanger themselves by testifying, she said, the alternative was to allow a situation where husbands felt they could beat their wives with impunity.

While spouses cannot now be forced to give evidence against each other, de facto spouses can.

The commission had considered extending the right of refusing to testify to other relationships but had found the boundaries difficult to establish.

The president of the Law Commission, Justice Baragwanath, said it was not practical to apply the rule to the large number of New Zealanders in de facto relationships, and protecting an attacker might be undesirable.

Other proposed law changes would:

Changes to the code would:

Judge Lee said the code aimed to clarify and coordinate the law, which was often inconsistent.