Sydney Morning Herald
Monday, August 30, 1999

Call for tougher checks on AVOs

By GERARD NOONAN
Sydney Morning Herald

Police should have greater power to weed out dubious domestic violence orders before they reach the courts, according to a significant proportion of magistrates who took part in a special survey.

Almost 20 per cent of the magistrates who responded to a survey by the Judicial Commission of NSW, thought more discretion should be available to police to filter out domestic violence matters when the police considered them to be frivolous.

The survey of more than 60 serving NSW magistrates also found that most (90 per cent) believed domestic violence orders were used by applicants - often on the advice of a solicitor - as a tactic in Family Court proceedings to deprive their partners of access to their children.

Police are required to apply to the courts for an apprehended violence order (AVO) if they suspect that a domestic violence offence, stalking or intimidation has recently been or is likely to be committed.

They are also required to apply for an AVO if they believe child abuse might occur.

Last night a police spokesman said police had "a responsibility to ensure sufficient evidence exists" before applying for an AVO to be granted.

Magistrates courts, the first level of the court system, were swamped last year when the number of AVOs rose to 49,600, 10,000 more than the previous year. After a big rise in the number of complaints brought on the highly sensitive AVO issue, the Judicial Commission of NSW undertook to survey magistrates.

The chief executive of the Judicial Commission, Mr Ernie Schmatt, said AVOs produced most complaints to the commission, sometimes because of a misunderstanding of the role of a magistrate.

Mr Schmatt said that on average, magistrates spent 15 per cent of their work time dealing with such orders.

Some were known to have spent up to three quarters of their time dealing with AVOs.

Most of the orders dealt with threats of domestic violence.

AVOs were introduced in NSW in 1983 and applied only to married or de facto domestic relationships.

They were extended five years later to include people living in a common household, blood or married relations, or people in intimate relationships.

In 1990, the law was extended to include anyone who feared violence or serious harassment or molestation from any person - so-called personal violence orders.

Another recommendation of the survey was that courts be able to refer personal violence orders to community justice centres when the nature of the dispute did not involve a threat of violence.

Most magistrates found personal violence orders to be open to abuse.