18 July 2017

Queensland Government reforms to domestic violence laws to increase victim protection

It is hoped that recent amendments to the Domestic and Family Violence Protection Act 2012 (Qld) (“Act”) which came into effect on 30 May 2017, will increase protection of victims of domestic and family violence.  The Domestic and Family Violence Protection and Other Legislation Bill 2016 (Qld) (“Bill”) introduces a raft of new provisions in the Act, designed to increase victim safety, in line with recommendations made by the Special Taskforce on Domestic and Family Violence in Queensland in its 28 February 2015 report “Not Now, Not Ever: Putting an End to Domestic and Family Violence in Queensland.”

This article outlines some of the important changes made to the Act to increase the power of police, and the courts to deal with the high rates of domestic and family violence in Queensland.

Extension of police powers when issuing police protection notices at the scene of the violence

Under section 101 of the Act, police have powers to issue a police protection notice (“PPN”), which is taken to be a police application for a protection order (section 112 of the Act), if the police officer reasonably believes the respondent has committed domestic violence, and, amongst other considerations, a PPN is necessary or desirable to protect the aggrieved from domestic violence (clause 19 of the Bill, section 101 of Act).

The recent changes approved to the Act enable a PPN to be made even if the respondent is not present (clause 19 of the Bill, section 101 of the Act),  and expand police powers to include orders outside of the “standard conditions” under section 106, including, under section 106A (clause 24 of the Bill), a “no‑contact condition”, and an “ouster condition” prohibiting the respondent from  entering, remaining at, or approaching within a stated distance of the aggrieved’s premises (which often is the respondent’s premises as well) (clause 26 of the Bill, section 107B of the Act).

It is hoped that the extension of police powers in issuing PPNs at the scene of domestic violence incidents, will not only increase the safety of victims, but encourage police officers to make use of these powers, when appropriate, to deal with violence incidents straight away, at the scene.

Increase in court’s powers

In terms of the court’s powers regarding protection orders, three important changes effected by the Bill include:

  1. Requiring the Magistrate to specifically consider imposing “additional” protection conditions

Magistrates are now required to specifically consider whether other conditions should be included in a protection order, outside of the mandatory conditions that the “the respondent be of good behaviour towards the aggrieved and not commit domestic violence against the aggrieved”.  Additional, specific conditions must be considered by the Magistrate to be “necessary or desirable to protect the aggrieved [or a named person] from domestic violence” (clause 7 of the Bill, section 57 of the Act).

Such additional conditions may include, for example, conditions prohibiting stated behaviour of the respondent that is likely to lead to domestic violence, and conditions prohibiting the respondent from approaching, or attempting to approach the aggrieved, or contacting or attempting to contact, or locate the aggrieved (section 58 of the Act).

  1. Broadening the Magistrate’s discretion to determine the duration of a protection order

Magistrates now have wider powers to determine the duration of a protection order “for any period the court considers is necessary or desirable to protect the aggrieved [or a named person] from domestic violence”.  A protection order is to continue in force for a period of less than five years, “…only if the court is satisfied there are reasons for doing so”.  If no end date is specified in a protection order, the order will now last five years, not two years (clause 17 of the Bill, section 97 of the Act).

  1. Automatic recognition of protection orders made in states other than Queensland

Protection orders made in other states of Australia are now automatically recognised, replacing the old system requiring orders to be registered by victims in the courts (clause 53 of the Bill, section 31 of the Act).  The old manual registration process required victims who worked in, or relocated to other states of Australia, to make application to the court in that state to register the protection order.  This is no longer required, removing yet another burden on the victims of domestic violence.

Time will tell whether these reforms will reduce violent incidents and better protect victims

Combatting the high rates of domestic and family violence has long been a top agenda item for the Queensland, and Commonwealth Governments.  2015 Australian of the Year, Rosie Batty’s May 2017 address to the Cairns Business Women’s Club, attended by over 300 guests, illustrated that there may be still be a long way to go in terms of reform of public perceptions, attitudes and support of victims of domestic and family violence.  However, it is pleasing to see that the Palaszczuk government’s 2017 reforms to the Act will give police and the courts greater power to deal with domestic and family violence situations.

For more information about this issue and all family law matters please contact our Senior Associate, Julie Hodge on 07 4036 9700.

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