Judges and lawyers say laws for personal apprehended violence orders are among the most misused pieces of legislation, while frustrated magistrates are fed up that the "time wasters" who abuse the orders are clogging up the courts.
As shadow attorney-general Greg Smith says the system needed an overhaul, one barrister says the danger is that the time wasters are taking the focus away from the people who really need the protection the orders give.
In the NSW District Court last year, Judge John Williams threw out the case of two neighbours each appealing against AVO decisions against the other.
barrister Tony Smith said"The real victims who need protection from the real abusers are being slotted in to an assembly line," .
"The magistrates are frustrated to the hilt."
He says they should be reserved for only the most substantial cases of harassment.
Judge Williams said"Regrettably, APVOs are being sought and, even more regrettably, obtained in many circumstances where an order is not justified, thereby bringing the objects and purpose of this piece of incredibly vague legislation into even further disrepute,"
Anyone can walk into a court and, based only on his or her say-so, seek an interim AVO from the registrar.
Judge Williams saidIf an APVO is made inappropriately, rather than calming a developing situation, it can tend to inflame it by giving apparent legitimacy to inappropriate conduct.
Despite people taking out dozens of personal AVOs over the years, not one serial complainer has been declared a vexatious litigant, which would curb excess enthusiasm for using the orders as weapons.
Smith, who could be attorney-general after next weekend's state election, says that he is familiar with these potential abuses. He says he would encourage prosecutions for perjury if it were found people had lied to obtain an AVO.
Smith says he would welcome suggestions on how to tighten the legislation.
barrister Tony Smith said"While there is provision in current legislation for applications for AVOs and PAVOs to be refused if the application is frivolous or vexatious, it is concerning that on the face of things there appear to be too many instances of matters which are without substance but proceed to court,".
"These matters not only waste both court and police time and cost taxpayers money, but they undermine the very real purpose that AVOs are designed for, which is to protect people."
barrister Tony Smith said"Much more effort should be put into discouraging abuse of the AVO system by prosecution for perjury or like offences and, in appropriate cases, requiring leave of the court to commence proceedings,".
The office of attorney-general John Hatzistergos did not answer emails nor return calls on the subject.
District Court judge Paul Conlon says that AVOs have become weapons in Family Court battles.
An AVO comes with the threat that if you do not attend court, you could be arrested on a police warrant. It is serious stuff.
District Court judge Paul Conlon said"On two occasions I can recall the court being advised that the original reason why the AVO was sought against the male was because the female's family lawyers told her it might look better for her in the Family Law proceedings when custody was debated,".
Top-rating radio host Ray Hadley spent $110,000 in legal fees to fight an interim AVO granted against him by Matt John Murdoch, who was described in court as a conman.
Dismissing Murdoch's application, Blacktown Local Court magistrate Roger Brown said"his claims were pure fabrication".
Secretary of the SPCA,Wayne Butler saidThe brunt of the increased work that will permeate local courts and arising from allegations of violence, will fall to the Magistrates who already hold full court sessions on AVO day.
It is unreasonable to expect an already burgeoning court to take on matters of allegations and or determine family contact matters in just the few minutes that the parties are given to appear. Many of these allegations are vexatious, made by applicants in family matters and you only have to discuss this issue with the registry at a local court to see what sort of leverage parties to family courts matters and separating parents believe they have by way of a successful AVO or ADVO order. There was some discussion with the ALRC (Australian Law Reform Commission) around decoupling the ADVO and AVO linkage from the Families Court because many cases have a belief that an ADVO or AVO will give some advantage. Fortunately that appears to be a misguided perception by some groups, who are advising separating parents. In practice the Federal Magistrates and Family Courts look closely at all matters surrounding a case.
The fundamental question needs to be asked if there is real and on going violence or is this a storm in a teacup, a heated argument in the turmoil of initial separation where one parent has withdrawn the children, relocated or stopped contact. The SPCA is opposed to proven and real violence that is on going and likely to result in harm to families and partners. We support efforts to reduce violence. Changing the Act to widely increase the definition of family violence will do nothing to reduce real, on the ground violent behaviours.