GPS trackers are becoming an increasingly common tool of law enforcement. They can function both as a punishment as well as a preventative measure against future crimes taking place. They are currently used on those who commit child sex offences and suspected terrorists, as well as for extended supervision orders – which may apply to people who have done their time in prison but are still considered a potential risk to the community.
A woman per week is being killed in situations of domestic violence and, as outlined in some of our recent blogs, an action plan is now being implemented to address the situation, which includes ankle bracelets for those who commit domestic violence offences.
The latest federal budget saw approximately $30 million of funds allocated to various programs designed to combat domestic violence. $4 million is being given to the 1800 RESPECT hotline, which helps those who have experienced sexual assault or domestic family violence.
Both state and federal governments are proposing the use of GPS trackers for those who perpetrate domestic violence. The idea was brought up by Michaela Cash, the Prime Ministers Assistant Minister for Women, and Tony Abbot has added his support for the proposal.
This may be a first for NSW, but Victorian courts already have the power to order GPS monitoring devices for those considered a risk to their families.
The devices have been used for years in the United States in an effort to combat domestic violence, and although the debate surfaced in Australia, it was ultimately rejected in 2013 on the basis that the technology was not reliable enough.
Around this time, it was also trialled in both New Zealand and Britain, but both jurisdictions declined to go ahead due to the high cost.
The proposal appears popular with the general public, and local support groups also approve of the measure. The Council of Australian Government (COAG) will debate the measure at its next meeting which is scheduled for this month.
The COAG Advisory Panel is headed by the former Victorian chief commissioner of police Ken Lay, and Rosie Batty. Batty’s 11-year-old son was killed by his father during cricket practice. She is now a domestic violence campaigner and 2015 Australian of the Year.
Who will be targeted?
The current proposal is to attach the devices to those who are deemed an immediate risk to their partners, children or other family members but the fine print is yet to be determined.
It is unclear whether or not it will be limited to those who have spent time in prison, or to a wider range of people who are guilty of domestic violence offences.
But not all those who suffer from domestic violence go through the courts. Because of this, Karen Willis, executive officer of Rape and Domestic Violence Services Australia believes that the devices should be prescribed for people who breach protection orders – not simply those who have been in prison or have a criminal record.
However, some have criticised GPS tracking devices on the basis that they further stigmatise offenders and may stand in the way of efforts towards rehabilitation.
There are also concerns about the lack of clarity regarding who the measure will target:
Will it be those who are convicted of serious offences and/or have served time in prison?
Or will it apply to those who are the subject of an AVO or other protective order without any conviction at all?
If it could apply to the latter, there are concerns that many who are the subject of false applications could be made to wear the devices; which would be highly unjust.
As outlined in previous blogs, several groups including Family Court judges have expressed concern that AVOs and other protective orders are being taken-out by vengeful former partners with ulterior motives, such as bolstering family law proceedings. Because the threshold for granting AVOs and other protective orders is so low (on the ‘balance of probabilities’ rather than ‘beyond reasonable doubt’), there are concerns that the subjects of false complaints could be made to wear GPS tracking devices when they are indeed innocent of the alleged conduct.
And if Ms Willis’ proposal was adopted, it could potentially lead to thousands of men having to wear GPS tracking devices, many of whom are not a danger to anyone.
How do they work?
If those wearing the devices go enter an exclusion zone, such as the home or a workplace of a protected person, law enforcement officials will be notified.
The GPS trackers mean it would be potentially easier to determine whether an AVO had been breached, which could mean more convictions.
Section 14 of the Crimes (Domestic and Personal Violence) Act 2007 makes it a criminal offence for a person to contravene an AVO in NSW. The offence comes with a maximum fine of $5,500 and/or two years imprisonment.
Of course, GPS tracking cannot solve all the problems surrounding domestic violence – yet some believe it is one step in the right direction.