Yesterday the Minister of Justice announced a new better public service target to reduce family violence.
She has created two new supporting measures of violent crime namely “Violent offences in private dwellings (a proxy for family violence); and Violent offences in public places.”
I applaud the Ministers focus on family violence but I have two major concerns with this – police have estimated that only around 20% of cases are reported. We have seen domestic violence reporting going up while identified domestic violence offences have declined. Less than forty percent of family violence tagged police call outs resulted in an offence being recorded last year, and then only a third of those resulted in charges being laid. The percentage of recorded offences is down ten percent in just three years and the percentage of cases progressing to charges is also down.
Former Principal Family Court Judge Peter Boshier has said police are prosecuting less because of tight budgets. There is also concern about the capacity of the courts and the entire justice sector. This is not the time, or the way, to reduce domestic violence statistics.
The truth is while only twenty percent of incidents are being reported we still need to see an increase in these statistics. Statistics should record what is actually happening in our communities. We should not expect a genuine decrease in domestic violence statistics until we’ve had a significant period of consistent response and social change. These things are not yet in place so it seems pre-emptive to say we expect a decrease in domestic violence.
My second concern is using violent offences in private dwellings as a proxy. Domestic violence is not in anyway restricted to the home. It happens at people’s workplaces (one of the reasons for my members bill), it happens in cars and it happens on the streets, sadly it happens everywhere. Will a text breaching a protection order be covered by this new reporting measure? This is a key aspect of family violence that needs monitoring.
The Minister recently raised the possibility of creating a standing alone family violence offence or class of offences. There was support for an identifying tag for existing offences to assist with sentencing and also monitoring. Police already tag call outs as family violence call outs. This might be imperfect but the suggested proxy of violent offences in a private dwelling seems problematic.
The Government is identifying that it needs to take action on domestic violence; that is good. However all initiatives, including the targets, need to be incredibly well considered. The safety of victims is at stake. It does not look on first glance that these are well considered.