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Position Paper: Court Responses to Domestic and Family Violence in New South Wales

The court system plays a vital role in responding to domestic and family violence in Australia, and ensuring the ongoing protection of victim-survivors of abuse. When police make a provisional Apprehended Domestic Violence Order (ADVO) and/or charge an offender for a domestic violence-related offence, or in cases where a domestic violence victim-survivor makes a private application for an ADVO, women are required to attend a local court for their matter. Victim-survivors are required to attend court, where their abuser will be present, give evidence against their abuser, and be cross-examined on that evidence. The outcome of a court matter will determine whether an ADVO will be in place for the victim-survivor’s protection, and/or whether an offender is found guilty of a criminal offence.

Women’s Safety NSW acknowledges that significant progress has been made by Australian courts in response to domestic and family violence. Most recently, in October 2020, the NSW Government announced proposed amendments to the Criminal Procedure Act 1986 through the Stronger Communities Legislation Amendment (Domestic Violence) Bill 2020. This Bill, in part, addresses some of the concerns raised by Women’s Safety NSW through its Safer Courts for Women Campaign, and discussed in this position paper. Women’s Safety NSW welcomes these proposed reforms, however, note that they fail fully to address many of the ongoing issues faced by victim-survivors of domestic and family violence in NSW local courts. Frontline Women’s Domestic Violence Court Advocacy Service (WDVCAS) workers and victim-survivors continue to report that the court system can be confusing, hostile and even traumatic. Many of the processes in place regarding ADVO matters vary greatly between different local courts, as do the quality of the facilities available. Practices such as holding domestic violence hearings in an open court room, and allowing abusers to rigorously cross-examine their victim are still allowed in NSW, and can make court a horrific experience. The attitude and approach of local court magistrates to domestic and family violence matters is inconsistent, and instances of poor practice from magistrates undermine the safety and effectiveness of the court process.

This paper examines the processes, facilities, and common practices in place in local courts across NSW, and the impacts they have on women’s experiences when attending court for a domestic violence matter. Women’s Safety NSW believes that immediate reform of key aspects of the local court system is vital to effectively addressing domestic and family violence in NSW.