The NSW Opposition Leader has indicated that if elected, his government will introduce a trial of specialist sexual assault and domestic violence courts in various NSW locations.
Luke Foley has followed on with the policy announced by former Labor leader John Robertson.
This would be the first specialist sexual assault and domestic violence courts of their kind in Australia, following in the example of the NSW Drug Court.
Foley’s aims are to create a streamlined process where domestic assault matters are handled more quickly by professionals trained to handle them. The end goal is more reports of domestic violence, more prosecutions, fewer AVO breaches and stiffer penalties.
Several initiatives stopping short of a domestic violence court have taken place in Australian jurisdictions, including in NSW. In Victoria, the Family Violence Court Division is being trialled in a metropolitan and a regional location. Similar matters are heard by this Division, with new registrars hired to ensure the smooth running of the Division. Magistrates, registrars and court staff also undergo training. Behavioural change programs are also available for offenders. A priority is speeding up proceedings.
NSW took fledgling steps towards a domestic violence court model with the Campbelltown and Wagga Wagga Domestic Violence Intervention Court Model in 2005. This brought new equipment to court rooms, an overhaul of police investigation procedures for domestic violence offences and offender treatment and education programs under Corrective Services. Specially trained magistrates and court staff were not part of this program.
The Gold Coast Domestic Violence Integrated Response Project started in 1999. This initiative has a victim focus, with a court worker allocated to domestic violence victims, who ensures that victims have a safe waiting area in the court house, and assists with referral services and applications or variations of protection orders. Mandatory attendance at perpetrator programs is a sentencing option.
The Joondalup Family Violence Court in WA features specialist magistrate, prosecutor and defence counsel attached to the court. 6-month perpetrator programs are available for defendants who plead guilty.
The proposed new court has a lot of potential – domestic violence cases, which comprise a significant portion of the Local Court caseload, could be diverted to a specialist court for expedient disposal by trained professionals. It would improve the experience for victims, and perhaps assist offenders by providing them with more constructive sentencing options.
Image credit: Daily Telegraph
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