Family violence is a very significant issue in Victoria. Criminal offences, particularly those between domestic partners or in a family setting, come before the Courts at all levels regularly. The Andrews Government went to the last election and made promises in relation to family violence issues, which included establishing a Royal Commission and enacting new laws to address and punish proven acts of family violence.
At present, family violence is addressed at law by:
- intervention orders under the Family Violence Protection Act;
- criminal charges for offences of violence, stalking, and breaches of intervention orders; and
- applications before the Family Court.
We do not practice family law but regularly appear in the intervention order and criminal courts. In the intervention order courts we appear both on behalf of applicants and respondents. In the criminal courts, we regularly represent individuals charged with acts of family violence, non-violence offences which occur in domestic/family settings and, breaches of intervention orders. We represent those who insist that they are innocent of the alleged offences and also those who wish to plead guilty.
Intervention Orders are made by the Magistrates’ Court. They can be made by application of a person requesting protection and from Police Officers who have concerns that an affected family member may be in need of protection from another family member, such as a spouse, child or carer. Often the initial step is that the respondent, being the person against whom the intervention order is proposed to be made, is advised that the applicant (the person requesting protection) is going to apply for an intervention order. The respondent will receive a summons and application for an intervention order which is served by the Police. In some circumstances, once the application is filed with the court, the court will also issue an interim intervention order, which is designed to protect the applicant and restrain the respondent from having contact with the applicant unless and until a final order is made. The circumstances in which intervention orders are made vary and may run alongside criminal proceedings, such as offences of stalking, assault and sexual assault. If criminal charges are filed arising from alleged acts of family violence, the court will make an intervention order as a matter of course, if the Police or applicant have not already.
The circumstances in which intervention orders are made are multifarious. Some are required to protect people placed at harm, whether physical, psychological, emotional, mental or financial.
However, conversely, in our experience, applications also go before the courts without a proper basis and are subject to abuse. We have represented many clients, who receive applications for orders in an attempt to distance the respondent in family law proceedings, in order to obtain a power advantage or in order to attempt to restrain the respondent from exercising their legal rights. These applications place further burden on the system and can have serious ramifications for the respondent.
Whilst intervention orders are civil orders, breaches of them are criminal offences punishable by up to 2 years imprisonment. Accordingly, legal advice should be sought before a respondent accepts an order, with or without admissions.