As of 25 November 2017, ‘Persons in Need of Protection’ (PINOPs) – or complainants – who are the subject of domestic violence orders (DVOs) in any Australian state or territory are automatically protected nationwide. The National Domestic Violence Order Scheme is designed to reduce barriers that can leave complainants vulnerable across jurisdictional borders.
On average, one woman is killed every week by a partner or former partner in Australia. And one out of every four Australian women reports having experienced violence at the hands of a partner or ex-partner.
A national priority
Former Prime Minister Tony Abbott made domestic violence a national priority when in January 2015, he named domestic violence campaigner Rosie Batty Australian of the Year. He also announced the establishment of a Council of Australian Governments (COAG) national advisory panel into the issue.
Drawing on the advice of the panel, the leaders of all states and territories agreed at the December 2015 COAG meeting to the establishment of the national scheme, so that DVOs issued in one jurisdiction would be recognised by all others.
The national scheme
The scheme was rolled out last Saturday to coincide with the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. NSW minister for the prevention of domestic violence Pru Goward said it will make it easier for women and their families to start a new life.
A national database has been established to share DVO information across the nation. The database is accessible to all police and court agencies, allowing orders to be shared so their conditions can be automatically known and enforced when either complainants or defendants move interstate.
The system is designed to prevent a PINOP from having to go through the process of engaging with courts or law enforcement in other jurisdictions for the making of enforceable orders.
Cross border protection
In relation to DVOs obtained prior to the change, a protected person needs to apply to a Local Court registrar in any jurisdiction to have the order recognised. Defendants won’t be informed of the registration, and the location of the PINOP is not to be revealed.
The scheme also has trans-tasman provisions. A domestic violence order from New Zealand will not automatically be recognised, but a protected person can register their order in any Australian jurisdiction, and it will apply across all states and territories.
In circumstances where a breach of an interstate order occurs, and the PINOP and defendant are in different states or territories, police in the jurisdiction where the complainant resides will begin investigations and then forward an investigation package to officers in the jurisdiction where the defendant is located.
The NSW legislation
Attorney General Mark Speakman outlined in a media release that NSW was the first jurisdiction to introduce laws that nationally enforce DVOs. The Crimes (Domestic and Personal Violence) Amendment (National Domestic Violence Orders Recognition) Bill was passed in March last year.
The legislation inserts Part 13B into the Crimes (Domestic and Personal Violence) Act 2007. Section 98ZG of the bill provides that a non-local DVO is treated as a local DVO, meaning prohibitions or restrictions imposed in another jurisdiction will be recognised as NSW law.
In NSW, an apprehended violence order is a court order issued to protect a person against violence, intimidation or harassment perpetrated by another individual. An apprehended domestic violence order (ADVO) is issued where there is or has been a domestic relationship.
Such a relationship is where those involved are related, living together, in an intimate relationship, or were previously in these situations. They can be issued in dependant carer arrangements, as well as within extended family situations for Indigenous people.
The new scheme aims to prevent the situation where a protected person is unaware they need to register interstate, and where they don’t want to engage with another legal system for fear of re-traumatisation, or having their whereabouts revealed.
Earlier steps to protect complainants
Former Attorney General Gabrielle Upton explained during the second reading speech on the amendment bill that the national scheme accompanies a number of other measures designed to protect domestic violence complainants.
Since May 2014, senior police have been able to issue provisional ADVOs immediately after a domestic violence incident, Ms Upton pointed out. This allows complainants and their children to remain safely within their homes, whilst the defendant is removed from the location.
The Domestic Violence Evidence-in-Chief (DVEC) reforms came into play in June 2015. The DVEC system allows complainants in domestic violence cases to provide their initial evidence in court via a pre-recorded video or audio statement.
The DVEC scheme was intended to reduce the trauma associated with having to recount events in front of the defendant during court proceedings. However, a recent NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research report found that DVEC has had little, if any, impact on conviction rates.
Ms Upton also mentioned the Women’s Domestic Violence Court Advocacy Service, which currently services 117 local courts, providing women with help and information about how to get court protection from domestic violence.
A state government priority
Reducing domestic violence reoffending is currently listed as one of the top twelve priorities of NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian. The state government is aiming for a 25 percent reduction in the proportion of domestic violence perpetrators that reoffend by 2019.
Around 15 percent of people charged with domestic violence assault reoffend within 12 months of the initial incident. Of those, almost 50 percent do so before court proceedings have been finalised.
The state government’s approach to reducing domestic violence reoffending includes improving Community Corrections supervision, and increasing access to behavioural change programs, such as the EQUIPS Domestic Abuse Program, which aims to treat and prevent abusive behaviour.
The NSW police Suspect Target Management Plan (STMP) was also expanded last year to include defendants in domestic violence cases. The program involves increased police surveillance of those who have been placed on an undisclosed police list.
However, the secretive STMP has come under scrutiny in recent times due to the way it has been used to target young offenders, as well as individuals police feel have the potential to commit crimes, even though they have never been convicted or even charged.
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Paul Gregoire is a Sydney-based journalist and writer. He has a focus on social justice issues and encroachments upon civil liberties. Prior to Sydney Criminal Lawyers®, he wrote for VICE and was the news editor at Sydney’s City Hub.