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Family violence offenders Victoria breaching intervention orders and let off with fines: Sentencing Advisory Council

Family violence offenders breaching intervention orders let off with fines: Sentencing Advisory Council

December 2, 2015 11:55pm
Elissa Doherty, Anthony Galloway - Herald Sun


Domestic Violence Victoria CEO Fiona McCormack says the issue is not being taken seriously enough.

MORE than one in three offenders who breach a family violence intervention order by menacing a victim are getting let off by the courts with just a fine, a report has found.

This is despite the Sentencing Advisory Council six years ago warning against the use of fines for breaches, saying they did not often work in protecting the community or rehabilitating the offender.

A new report released today by the council reveals 36.5 per cent of those sentenced for an aggravated breach — involving an intention to harm or instilling fears for a victim’s safety — were slapped with a fine if no other offence was involved.

But jail terms or community court orders were the most common sentences for aggravated breaches when other offences were involved in the case, such as assault or criminal damage.

The report found sentences of jail increased by 4 per cent to 16 per cent since 2009 for “non-aggravated” breaches and community sentences rose by 5 per cent.

In these non-violent cases, 27 per cent result in a fine, and 24 per cent in a community correction order.

Overall there was a 3.7 per cent rise in fines being used as a penalty for contraventions since 2009.

The paper examined sentencing for contraventions of FVIOs and police-issued Family Violence Safety Orders from 1 July 2009 to 30 June this year, comparing patterns in the two three-year periods.

The number of FVIOs issued by the courts soared by nearly 55 per cent from 17,777 to 27,478.

There were 8787 sentences handed down for breaches and 1,289 for persistent breaches.

It found police and courts were generally getting tougher on family violence offences.

Council chair Prof Arie Frieberg said while authorities were taking breaches more seriously, the “continuing use of fines to sentence breaches of family violence orders remains an area of concern”.

Domestic Violence Victoria chief executive Fiona McCormack said the figures showed the justice system wasn’t taking domestic violence seriously enough.

“The fact that more than a third of offenders sentenced for aggravated breaches receive fines as a penalty shows there is an ongoing culture about seeing this as a private issue, unlike when serious violence is perpetrated by a stranger,” she said.

“When police do act on breaches it sends a strong message to perpetrators that the justice system takes this issue seriously and if breaches are not followed up on, it sends a strong message to perpetrators they can continue to breach and get away with it.

Meanwhile, victims will be able to apply for intervention orders online under a new streamlined plan to battle domestic violence.

Previously victims had to attend Magistrates’ Courts in Victoria. and fill out paper applications and it is hoped the new $365,000 program will allow high-risk cases to be expedited.
Wayne Butler, Executive Secretary of the Shared Parenting Council of Australia said
The use of ADVO / Intervention orders is extremely problematic and complex where there are families with children. These orders can, when not carefully considered, remove one parent from the house, property, and children for an extended period of time. They can cause catastrophic financial implications for the parent who has been issued an order and as well some parents have lost their employment dealing with these. These sorts of cases are not easy for judicial officers to deal with and often self represented parties are not able to set out the issues to a level that will satisfy a judicial officer as to the safety of the applicant.

There are issues with these orders where there is no physical violence.

The first is that the standard of evidence required to get one is relatively low. Secondly the orders generally encompass parties that may not have been involved in any altercation such as children.  Thirdly they can be used as an effective tool to remove a difficult parent from having contact with the children. Lastly, t he Police have unlimited resources to press these orders and to defend a malicious complaint can easily cost 4-6 thousand dollars.

Typically a recent and ongoing case involves two young parents where the Police are acting for the mother. The father was issued an interim ADVO, he was desperate to see his baby after the mother had left he sent texts and made phone calls to get contact. The mother did not respond so more texts and phone calls. The Police arrive a few days later in the early hours of the morning and arrest the father for breach of the interim order.

Father now has no contact with his baby, an interim ADVO and a Breach order and two separate court appearances at different courts, one for ADVO, one for Breach. Father gets legal aid to assist, legal aid misplace file on ADVO mention so held over to another occasion, Father attends different court following week and significant fine for Breach. No contact with baby for many months. Mother gets Legal Aid and solicitor says get court orders for contact. Local Court won't make orders for contact or has not been asked to do so. Federal Circuit Court and Mediation process here we come. Dad may see Bubs in a  year or so…. These sorts of matters are not straight forward.
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