The decision in Hannah Clarke’s murder Inquest was recently released which saw the Queensland Coroner put forward some urgent recommendations for changes to the domestic violence training for police and a specialist domestic violence unit in a police station. This week Attwood Marshall Lawyers Family Law Special Counsel Michael Twohill joined Robyn Hyland on Radio 4CRB to talk about the latest action being taken to address domestic and family violence, and what needs to be done to continuously improve this major health and welfare issue.
The Coroner’s recommendations
In June, Deputy State Coroner Jane Bentley closed the inquest into the murder of Hannah Clarke and her children. She delivered her heartfelt findings that found there were missed opportunities to hold the perpetrator accountable during Hannah’s life, that there was inadequate training of police officers in general in how to handle domestic violence. She also found that there needs to be a stronger focus on identifying and assessing the risk of harm to children involved in family violence situations.
From her findings, the Coroner made four key recommendations to prevent similar deaths to that of Hannah Clarke and her children.
- A five-day face-to-face training program for specialist Domestic Violence Police
- The introduction of a mandatory Domestic Violence Module for all officers to complete as part of their annual skills training
- Funding for men’s behaviour change programs
- The trial of a specialist domestic violence police station in the Logan or Kirwan districts for 12 months, as these areas have the highest numbers of domestic violence incidents in Queensland.
In order for the dedicated domestic violence police station to be effective, the Deputy State Coroner recommended that it must have:
- Specialist domestic violence police officers, including a detective to investigate criminal offences.
- A specialist domestic violence support worker.
- A child safety officer from the Department of Child Safety to assess the risk of harm to children of families affected by domestic violence.
- A QLD Health Worker to assess mental health, drug and alcohol issues and the wellbeing of children.
- A lawyer to provide legal advice to police and victims.
In response to those recommendations, the Queensland Government has agreed to implement each recommendation and has also commissioned an independent inquiry into broader cultural issues in the police service.
These recommendations are an extremely important step to help support those especially in the immediate area surrounding Logan who may be experiencing domestic violence, but given the widespread nature of this issue, more still needs to be done.
Domestic and family violence is not just a Queensland problem. This issue needs to be addressed in every state and territory of Australia. Following the release of the Coroner’s findings, the parents of Hannah Clarke welcomed the decision but called for these changes to be introduced nationally.
Domestic Violence Protection Orders – will they protect victims of violence?
Hannah Clarke had a domestic violence protection order out against her ex-husband, but it did not protect her.
In the Coroners findings, it was highlighted that police missed opportunities to hold the perpetrator accountable. Hannah Clarke’s ex-husband was not charged and put on bail when he breached a domestic violence protection order against him, and instead was handed a notice to appear in court for a lesser charge.
There are lessons to be learnt from this misstep and this should reinforce the need for a dedicated police station and task force that can handle the influx of diverse incidents of domestic and family violence we are now seeing.
In a recent article published by The Guardian, it was reported that fewer than 20% of alleged breaches of Queensland Domestic Violence Protection Orders result in charges.
This statistic came out after a public hearing which heard that police had lodged over 50,000 applications for contraventions of domestic violence protection orders in 2021-2022, with just over 9,000 charges being laid for a range of domestic and family violence-related offences.
In most cases the police are doing the best they can, but they are fatigued and under-resourced. Police can spend as much as 40% of their time attending to domestic and family violence incidents.
There needs to be a focus on early intervention to reduce violent behaviour in the first place or stop it from escalating.
In the 12 months leading to February 2021, data shows:
- 1 in 3 women experience emotionally abusive, harassing, and controlling behaviours from their partner
- 1 in 10 women experience physical violence
- 1 in 12 women experience sexual violence
- 1 in 3 victims of family violence is male
Data clearly shows that women are most impacted by domestic and family violence compared to any other group.
Indigenous Australians are also significantly over-represented as both victims and perpetrators of domestic violence, with reports stating that the rate of family violence victimisation for indigenous women may be 40 times the rate of non-Indigenous women.
Domestic violence is a significant problem in remote and regional communities and there needs to be a greater focus on the lack of safe housing for women and children in these areas.
There are also astonishing figures that show a high rate of pregnant women experiencing domestic violence, with at least 20 per cent of victims reporting that the violence began during their pregnancy.
Unfortunately, there is limited data to show the true nature and extent of how family violence impacts children. Despite the lack of data, research has shown that children exposed to family violence can experience long-term effects on their development and have an increased risk of mental health disorders and behavioural and learning difficulties.
Children of domestic and family violence victims are also at risk of continuing the cycle of violence with their own children and partners when they grow up and are at heightened risk of alcohol and drug abuse and delinquency later in life.
What action is urgently needed in New South Wales, and beyond?
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Attwood Marshall Lawyers began lobbying for a forum to be established to address domestic and family violence issues in the Northern New South Wales region. Unfortunately, COVID-19 stalled such an initiative and postponed any further action.
Most devastating, is the fact that the pandemic only exacerbated the issue with rates of domestic and family violence increasing in frequency and severity.
Two in five women who reported having experienced physical violence before the pandemic reported that the violent behaviour got worse during the pandemic. Many more women experienced violence for the first time during the pandemic.
The current situation is dire for our Magistrates and Police Prosecutors.
Attwood Marshall Lawyers has called on the NSW government to follow in the footsteps of the QLD Government and establish a dedicated specialist domestic violence police station in the Tweed/Byron area to support families faced with these issues. Once trialled and if proven to reduce the rates of violence against women, we would then hope these dedicated police stations could be implemented throughout NSW and in every state and territory of Australia.
Any new police station established should have the same inclusions as those recommended by the Deputy State Coroner in the Hannah Clarke inquest.
In the coming weeks, we will be organising a domestic violence forum with a view to establishing a Domestic Violence Prevention Alliance. This alliance will include various “stakeholders” who will each have an opportunity to have input into the way forward.
The issue of domestic and family violence is complex and will require a multi-faceted approach to achieve real change. It is going to take time to address these issues and involve commitment from all stakeholders including the greater community, state governments, the police, support services, and other judicial officers. Attwood Marshall Lawyers is committed to the cause, and we have expanded our family law department team to cater for the increase in enquiry expected as a result of our endeavours.
The National Plan to End Violence against Women and Children 2022-2023
It has been over 10 years since the first National Plan to Reduce Violence Against Women and their Children was introduced but identifying if we are in a better position to support victims of domestic violence is unclear.
Recently a major report was released by the Albanese Government as part of the development of the next National Plan and a number of key issues have been highlighted that urge the state and federal governments to address the national crisis of violence.
This report was a result of the stakeholder consultation process which took place over a 3-month period in 2021 and presents the views and expertise of close to 500 Australian practitioners, sector leaders, community advocates, and policymakers.
Stakeholders are calling for the new National Plan to:
There are so many issues to tackle, and we can only hope that the new 10-year National Plan to End Violence Against Women and Children will be able to address as many of these concerning issues as possible.
Reach out for help
If you are experiencing domestic and family violence and are in immediate danger, please call 000.
For anyone wanting to understand their rights and what measures they can take to protect themselves and their children, our family lawyers here at Attwood Marshall Lawyers are always available to discuss your circumstances with you and guide you to a resolution.
One of our experienced lawyers can take swift action to apply for and enforce a domestic violence order on behalf of a new client and can explain what the process will be if separating from a violent spouse.
At Attwood Marshall Lawyers, we have lawyers who have practised exclusively in this field for decades and understand the urgent and sensitive nature of these matters. We are here to help. Contact us anytime on 1800 621 071 or contact our Family Law DVO Paralegal, Brittany Watsford on direct line 07 5506 8264 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
In addition, there are also the following support services available to help:
- DV Connect Womensline (1800 811 811) offers emergency transport and accommodation as well as crisis counselling and interventions.
- Domestic Violence Prevention Centre on the Gold Coast can be contacted on 5591 4222 or 5532 9000. They provide a wide range of programs to support women and their children and also work with men who perpetrate domestic and family violence.
- 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) is also available to provide support for people, friends and family experiencing or at risk of experiencing sexual assault, domestic or family violence. They also provide support for professionals who are supporting someone experiencing or at risk of sexual assault and domestic violence.
- Lifeline provides all Australians experiencing personal crisis access to crisis support and suicide prevention services. Lifeline can be contacted on 13 11 14.
Attwood Marshall Lawyer’s Senior Family Lawyer Michael Twohill calls for specialist DVO police unit in Tweed to support families experiencing domestic violence