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Reducing harm from family violence Becci Whitton
10 October 2016

do no harm

As you may have seen in the news over the last couple of weeks, the Government has announced broad reforms of the Domestic Violence Act 1995, aimed at reducing the harm from New Zealand’s appalling rates of family violence.

Broader powers

As set out in the Cabinet papers released by the Ministry of Justice, the reforms include giving family violence agencies broad powers to share personal information with each other, where this is necessary to reduce the harm from family violence (see Cabinet paper 1).

The new legislation will include:

  • a broad provision that family violence agencies can share personal information with each other, for the purposes of carrying out risk assessments, making plans to help people, and to prevent victims from being harmed;
  • a principle that agencies must consider sharing information if they think someone might be harmed by family violence, or if they receive a request for information from another agency; and
  • immunity for anyone who shares information in good faith.

The proposed new legislation will override the Privacy Act, so naturally we are taking a strong interest in the proposals. We are supportive of the introduction of a broad provision to make it clear that - where necessary to reduce the risk of harm from family violence - agencies working in this sector can share information with each other. We also support the proposed immunity for disclosures made in good faith.

Further consultation

We are pleased to note the Cabinet paper states that the Minister of Justice will carry out further targeted consultation with agencies and professional bodies on matters related to family violence information sharing. If the reforms are to achieve their goals, they must work for the professionals who will be working under the new legislation.

We will also be keeping an eye out for the Family Violence Bill, which the Minister of Justice has announced will be introduced to Parliament in the coming months.

Serious threat

In the meantime, the Privacy Act already allows agencies to disclose information without someone’s consent, to “prevent or lessen a serious threat… to the life or health of the individual concerned or another individual” (see Principle 11(f)(ii)). The risk of harm from family violence certainly constitutes a serious threat.

If you are concerned that someone around you is experiencing family violence, you should tell the Police. We also encourage agencies to check out the escalation ladder on our website, which is a helpful guide to when information can be shared.

You can also read this related blog post by our Office.

Image credit: Do No Harm by Denise Krebs

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