Domestic violence sufferers who seek protective court orders in the ACT are being unnecessarily re-victimised and subjected to similar power and control tactics experienced at the hands of their violent partners at home, a report has found.
Victims of Crime ACT has identified a need for significant reforms to the territory's domestic violence order application process, to better protect victims from perpetrators and added trauma, in a position paper that has been handed to the ACT government.
The report, released early to Fairfax Media, outlines a series of recommendations that include bolstered police powers in violent domestic situations that require rapid intervention, extra protections for victims who give evidence in court and greater access to legal aid and interpreter services.
The report said access to domestic violence orders was a key legal response to preventing family violence and it was time to "rebalance the scales" to give victims a more positive experience and improved safety through the orders.
It pointed to research which showed the ACT scored poorly compared to other Australian jurisdictions when it came to its focus on victim safety in legislation.
"Evidence suggests victims can be unnecessarily re-victimised when making applications for domestic violence orders.
"Under the current legislative framework, it is possible for victims of domestic violence to be exposed to subtle, but potent tactics of control and power in court processes that can mirror the tactics of domestic violence perpetrators in private settings."
Victims reported they felt distressed when they applied for domestic violence orders through the territory's courts, particularly during final hearings..
Chief among their concerns were encounters with the violent perpetrator in the courts, difficulty obtaining legal representation and delays in the matter being heard.
They were also burdened by aggressive cross-examination from defence barristers, the prospect of being cross-examined by the perpetrator, and sometimes not being able to give evidence via audiovisual link.
"The adversarial approach of domestic violence order proceedings, particularly beyond a conference, can have the effect of re-traumatising or re-victimising vulnerable people," the report said.
ACT Victims of Crime Commissioner John Hinchey used the paper to call for increased powers for police to apply for and issue interim domestic violence orders at the time of crisis, rather than victims having to approach the courts to make an order.
The suggested reforms would also include a provision that police must apply for a domestic violence order if they suspected certain types of offences, such as stalking or intimidation, had been committed and there were ongoing risks for the victim.
Current laws which meant applicants for domestic violence orders couldn't be cross-examined by the perpetrator if he or she didn't have legal representation, and to give their evidence via audiovisual link, did not apply to civil proceedings.
A gap in services meant some vulnerable victims who weren't eligible for legal aid assistance also could not afford their own lawyer, which meant victims sometimes went unrepresented in court and boosted the likelihood they would withdraw the application part-way.
Those barriers to justice should be removed, and access to interpreters for ethnic victims should be centralised with the Magistrates Court, because there should be "no language or financial impediment to a person commencing proceedings for a domestic violence order", the report said.
Attorney-General Simon Corbell said the report's recommendations were being considered by the ACT government.
A national debate over the effectiveness of domestic violence orders that was sparked by campaigner Rosie Batty last year has been further fuelled by three deaths, allegedly related to family violence, in the ACT in the past month.
The February slaying of Calwell mother-of-three Tara Costigan brought the territory's process under greater scrutiny after it emerged she had sought a domestic violence order against her ex-boyfriend and alleged killer, Marcus Rappel, the day before her death.
Mr Corbell said many of the report's suggestions were in line with recommendations made in an Australian Law Reform Commission and the NSW Law Reform Commission joint report on family violence, which called for numerous reforms to domestic violence and protective orders legislation for each jurisdiction.