Domestic violence victim warns new restraining order laws may not go far enough

Perth Magistrates Court.
Perth Magistrates Court.

REFORMS to restraining order laws may not go far enough, a former victim warned.

Last Thursday, Restraining Orders and Related Legislation Amendment (Family Violence) Bill passed WA Parliament, strengthening the ‘three strikes’ provision for breaches of violence restraining orders (VRO).

Rebecca’s (surname withheld for her safety) former partner breached a VRO 90 times in two months, forcing her to live in a refuge for her safety.

“One week it was so intense I could not leave the refugee all week; I was so worried about the consequences of leaving,” she told Guardian Express.

“I was very disappointed that when police did catch him he was charged with 28 breaches. They bunched it up and charged him on a per day basis.

“I made contact with the investigating officers and asked ‘what do you need from me before it goes to court?’. Instead of going to court, they agreed to an early guilty plea with just 13 breaches recorded. The horror of those 90 breaches was diluted down to 13.”

Rebecca said police advised her that magistrates consider the totality of breaches when sentencing, but her former partner still received a suspended sentence.

“The system let me down,” she said, and added that she is attempting to secure a meeting with Attorney General Michael Mischin.

A spokeswoman for Mr Mischin said the reforms “ensure that persons who repeatedly breach a restraining order can no longer seek to ‘game’ the system by taking advantage of complex rules about how breaches are counted”.

She said restraining order breaches under the ‘three strikes’ presumption of imprisonment provision will now be counted up in the same way as under the Government’s burglary laws.

“The amendments give magistrates improved legislative tools to manage those who flout their court orders; including a presumption of imprisonment for a pattern of breaches over a number of days, and imprisonment continuing to be available for any single serious breach of a restraining order.”

She said the Attorney General encouraged Rebecca to meet with the Commissioner for Victims of Crime who has been carrying extensive work on family violence reforms so she could contribute to this work.

Greens South Metropolitan MLC Lynn MacLaren said the reforms were much needed “but more work needs to be done” in regards to “consequences for the repeated breaching of VROs and long delays for prosecutions”.

“As part of my preparation for today’s debate, I have worked closely with a courageous woman (Rebecca) who escaped a violent relationship in 2015… While her ex-partner breached his VRO on 90 occasions, he was only charged with 28 breaches (and) negotiated early guilty pleas for 13 breaches and received a suspended sentence,” she said.

“During her time in refuges, my constituent discovered that her experiences were not isolated examples… while the current legislation allows for sentences of up $6000 and/or up to two years in prison, I have been advised it is routine for sentences to be inconsistent and lenient.

“There are still unacceptable delays in the court system, which allow witnesses to forget, CCTV footage to be wiped, and, of course, compound the trauma experienced by survivors.”