Violence against women - Will the proposed reforms make a difference?
The Domestic and Family Violence Protection and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2016 will be introduced today (16 August, 2016) to the QLD Parliament. This is part of a continued effort to reduce violence, particularly violence against women and children. There have been nine (9) deaths in Queensland alone this year, caused by perpetrators of domestic violence.
As a Gold Coast Family Law Firm, we consider ourselves as one of the “pieces of the puzzle” – as referred by the Minister for the Prevention of Domestic and Family Violence, Shannon Fentiman. The Minister was speaking at a Media Conference held on the eve of the Bill being introduced. Ms Fentiman spoke of the need for a more collaborative approach by government and non-government service providers across all States and Territories of Australia.
Are the changes to the DVPA going to stop Violence Against Women
The proposed legislation can be found at http://www.parliament.qld.gov.au/Documents/TableOffice/TabledPapers/2016/5516T1245.pdf
The changes made by the enactment of the Domestic Violence and Family Protection Act 2012 made it far easier to obtain a Protection Order. We fail to see any need to make further changes so far as making a Protection Order more easily accessible. That was successfully achieved in 2012.
There are already countless Protection Order Applications which are brought (both by men and women) as an abuse of process – aimed solely at achieving some strategic position in a parenting or financial dispute following the breakdown of a marriage or de facto relationship. The concern is that by making further changes, it may lead to a further influx of these types of Applications.
Having reviewed the proposed changes, some seem, at first, somewhat hollow, for instance:
- The increased term of the Protection Order from 2 to 5 years – a party in need of the Protection Order being extended past the 2 year timeframe is already available under the existing legislation; and
- The empowerment of Police to issue a short compass Protection Order – to be known as a Police Protection Notice. There is already provision for this under the existing legislation.
However, there are some substantive changes regarding these Police Protection Notices, which include:
- Making the Notices mandatory in some instances;
- Widening the circumstances in which the Notices may be issued – including that the Notices may be issued when the perpetrator has fled and is not capable of being located; and
- The Notices may include more conditions, including importantly an Ouster condition – previously the maximum duration a perpetrator could be excluded from the family home was 24 hours.
Violence Against Women – How to stop it
Greater Resources and Training for Police
We support there being greater resources and training provided to front line services, particularly the QLD Police Service. The number of occasions where we have observed a less than adequate response to victims of domestic violence is hugely concerning.
It is unfortunately the experience of some of our clients that, even with the benefit of a Protection Order, they are not enforced by the Police. They are asked to wait for hours at a Police Station at all hours of the night, sometimes with young children, to provide a statement or make a complaint. Turned away and criticised because they do not have evidence to prove their allegations or claims.
Rhetorically, what good is a Protection Order if it is not enforced? What is the purpose of making it easier to get a Protection Order or increasing the duration of the Order, if the Orders are not enforced?
The DV Court
The new DV Court being trialled at the Southport Magistrates Court is, in our view, a great success. Designated Magistrates dealing with DV related criminal offences ensures consistency. The Magistrates are sternly but appropriately dealing with matters involving breaches of Protection Orders.
If there is a weak link in the chain, it is getting offenders who breach Protection Orders before these Magistrates.
We know of an instance where a presiding Magistrate made an official complaint when it was revealed during a Trial that inadequate steps had been taken by the Police to ensure the protection of a female victim following an incident of violence. The proposed changes to the Police Protection Notices may mean that circumstances such as these are avoided – of course this will only be so if the Police are adequately trained and have the requisite knowledge of the legislation (if enacted).
Enough Media Conferences
Whilst we applaud the effort and focus on the issue, enough Media Conferences – let’s see some real changes and proper resource allocation which actually save lives and stops violence against women.