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ACT government to strengthen domestic violence laws

The ACT government will strengthen laws to make it easier to prosecute domestic violence offenders. 

Attorney General Simon Corbell will announce reforms at an extraordinary meeting of the territory's Domestic Violence Prevention Council on Thursday. 

The meeting will advise the government before the Council of Australian Governments' meeting on family violence mid-year.

The government has already embarked on program that could see sweeping reforms to family violence legislation in response to recommendations from the Australian Law Reform Commission.

Mr Corbell said he would introduce the first stage of those reforms to the legislative assembly in early 2015. 

However, he said growing unrest in the community over domestic violence, as well as discussions with the ACT Director of Public Prosecutions Jon White and Victims of Crime Commissioner John Hinchey, prompted him to speed up some of the changes.


"Two measures have been put forward by the DPP that are easy and relatively straightforward to implement and we can progress these while we work on those more complex matters," Mr Corbell said.

The proposed reforms, to be brought forward in the next few months, would make strangulation an offence and allow prosecutors to use family violence victims' first statement to police as evidence at trial.

Mr Corbell said the DPP recommended introducing a lesser charge of strangulation as it would help prosecutors in domestic violence matters. 

"To strangle a victim is a very common action we see in domestic violence, particularly against women.

"We do already have a more serious offence which is strangulation with the intent to render unconscious, but the prosecutor has to prove that the person wanted to render that person unconscious. Often a person strangles someone without intending to make them unconscious."

"And often evidence of strangulation isn't obvious until a few days later when the bruises come out."

He said using a victim's initial recorded police statements would allow prosecutors to lead evidence based on information given to police at the scene of a domestic violence incident, and not just a formal statement made later. 

"We know it's very common for victims to decide not to follow through after an incident, or they might decide to change their minds in court.

"This helps to address those situations where victims might be pressured to recant their version of events."

Among the more complex reforms to be looked at for next year would be whether police-issued domestic violence orders could be adopted in the ACT.

Mr Corbell believed the extraordinary meeting had enormous potential to drive reform and give more momentum to domestic violence problems and solutions. 

Domestic Violence Prevention Council chairwoman Marcia Williams said politicians and workers from crisis, emergency and refuge services would attend.

"For us it's about getting all these key people around a table.

"I think it offers a real opportunity for us all to be on the same page."

Women's Minister Yvette Berry welcomed the meeting and said family, sexual and domestic violence were complex problems which required a coordinated response.

That response needed to include prevention, legal and support services at times of crisis, as well as post-crisis and perpetrator intervention work.


"It is a positive sign that Canberrans are openly talking about the problem of domestic violence.

"We need to continue these conversations and acknowledge that awareness is going to mean more women coming forward seeking support which will require even more support for domestic violence services."