New powers for police in domestic violence cases

Louise Hall
November 28, 2008

NEW rules have been introduced that strip police of discretion when responding to domestic violence, meaning they must arrest and charge all offenders. The onus has been taken from victims to press charges.

Victims' support groups have welcomed the changes, saying the transfer of responsibility for prosecution from the victim to police will lessen victims' fear of retribution and result in more perpetrators bought to justice.

The Minister for Police, Tony Kelly, said the new "standard operating procedures" would wipe out the inconsistencies in the way domestic violence incidents were treated throughout the state.

In the past it it has been up to the victim to lay charges, with police using their discretion to act on their behalf in very serious cases. Mr Kelly said the police would now initiate the action and automatically lay charges themselves in all cases.

"A number of victims are not game to lay charges because they are concerned with further domestic violence," Mr Kelly said. "Now it's taken out of their hands."

Howard Brown of the Victims of Crime Assistance League said victims would feel safer as their role would be limited to providing corroborating, rather than primary, evidence.

"That means the victim is going to feel far more comfortable with the process because any retribution the offender may seek is more likely to be directed towards police, who are the principle informants, rather than the victim."

While the victim would still be required to give evidence in court, officers will collect as much evidence as they can using a domestic violence evidence kit, said Superintendent Rod Smith, the domestic violence spokesman for the NSW Police.

The kit, which is being introduce across the state, contains a stills and video camera so police can document injuries to the victim and damage to property. All officers will also attend a two-day training course and keep a domestic violence checklist in their notebook.

Betty Green, the convener of the NSW Domestic Violence Coalition, said the pro-arrest policy was "an important first step" in providing better protection for victims and children.

All children in the family, even if they are not directly affected by the violence, will be reported to the Department of Community Services. Women will be given an information card with contact details for support services available in their area around the clock.

Ms Green said she hoped breaches of apprehended violence orders would now be treated more seriously by police.

"Whether it's Broken Hill, Bathurst or Bankstown, the police response should be the same."

There were more than 27,000 domestic violence-related assaults in NSW last year.