The Camp Hill murder-suicide is a wake up call for the judicial system to do more to protect families experiencing domestic violence, writes Family Law Special Counsel, Michael Twohill.
In my 36-years of practising as a lawyer, I will never forget the day when I was awoken by my wife to listen to a news report about a Gold Coast mother who had gone missing and her house burnt to the ground.
I had consulted with that mother only three days’ prior. She told me that she had broken up with her partner that Sunday evening and all he could say was “you have ruined my life, now I will ruin yours… I’ll start with your eldest daughter.” The mother went to the local police for help but was told she didn’t have enough evidence for them to take out a Police Protection Order, but if she wanted, she could file her own private application.
She did and she obtained a Temporary Protection Order against him the day after she consulted with me. Her partner snapped. He was served with the Order and on the same day his employment was terminated for an unrelated incident. He was waiting for her at her home when she returned from work and stabbed her to death. He burnt the house down and took her body with him, eventually being confronted and caught by the police the following day. As a lawyer, we never forget these cases.
Camp Hill murder-suicide a reminder we must do more
Last week, we witnessed another horrific act of violence on a suburban Brisbane street that left three children and their mother dead. The children, Aaliyah, 6, Laianah, 4, and Trey, 3, were on their way to school with their mother, Hannah Baxter, in their family car when they were ambushed by their father, Rowan Baxter, who had recently separated from his wife. Their white SUV was doused with petrol and set alight by Mr Baxter, 42, a former NZ Warriors NRL player, who died on the footpath after jumping in the passenger seat and stabbing himself. This case was heartbreaking to read. It opens all the old wounds. As lawyers, we say to ourselves, “could we have done more to prevent this?”.
Local changes to protect families
For the past 21 years, I have practised in the domestic violence jurisdiction. As a member of the judicial system, I know I must act now to help to prevent further senseless acts of family violence. As a community, we also need to take action to identify persons at risk and do our bit to try to eliminate family violence. At Attwood Marshall Lawyers, our renowned intent is to help people and to change people’s lives for the better when they are faced with their biggest challenges. We will endeavour to help our community with the issue of family violence.
We need to convene a Family Violence forum in the Tweed/Byron area to not only discuss but implement some positive initiatives to provide adequate support to members of our local community who are either suffering or have suffered family violence. We also need to find ways to educate those who are guilty of committing acts of family violence. I will be raising this issue with the Tweed/Byron Police Commander David Koptek and DCI Crime Manager Brendon Cullen, whom I had the pleasure of meeting at the recent Kingscliff Business Chamber of Commerce breakfast.
More sitting days, a bigger courthouse and a safe room
It is my intention to lobby our local MP Geoff Provest, for funding to enable the re-introduction of the family violence support organisations in the area and more support for our judicial officers in our local courts so that the backlog of family violence cases can be eliminated. The current situation is not fair on our Magistrates and Police Prosecutors nor are our courts able to accommodate family violence parties in a safe environment. Other courts have a ‘safe room’.
The NSW Government could take a leaf out of the Queensland Government initiative in the Southport Magistrates Court when confronting the issue. Why not implement a Pilot Program in a new upgraded and more spacious Courthouse in Tweed Heads where there was the ability to handle these matters in a manner that was a blueprint for other towns and cities to follow? The current situation is just not good enough and my concern is that there is a major incident just waiting to happen.
Together we can all make a difference.
- If you or someone you know is experiencing sexual abuse or family violence contact
1800 RESPECT on 1800 737 732
- Don’t go it alone. Please reach out for help by contacting
Lifeline on 13 11 14
- Men who have anger, relationship or parenting issues, should contact the Men’s Referral Service on
1300 766 491