An inquiry has recommended a package of amendments to the ACT’s family violence laws be passed and more funding provided.
As part of its seven recommendations, the inquiry found the government should review the impact of longer sentences on rehabilitation efforts before the bill is brought to the ACT Legislative Assembly for debate.
The Family Violence Legislation Amendment Bill 2022 proposes giving magistrates the power to impose harsher sentences on domestic violence perpetrators. It also sets out an aggravated offence scheme that will expand penalties for certain offences when committed in the context of family violence.
It would also amend the definition of family violence to include technological abuse and limit cross-examination on the contents of victim impact statements.
The inquiry called for the amendments to be supported by greater training and resourcing, including police attending family violence matters. Advocates including the Women’s Legal Centre and Domestic Violence Crisis Service have previously supported these amendments.
Women’s Legal Centre principal solicitor Claudia Maclean told Region Media that a law was only as good as it was able to be enforced and additional trauma-informed training for the judiciary and police was important.
Ms Maclean said there were examples where aggressive responses were actually trauma responses. These had not been interpreted and led to the wrong people being identified as perpetrators.
Throughout the committee inquiry, advocates also raised concerns about longer prison sentences leading to reduced opportunities for rehabilitation. Instead, the inquiry heard there should be a greater focus on psychological and personal skills programs.
But Minister for the Prevention of Domestic and Family Violence Yvette Berry told the committee the aggravated offence scheme was only one part of a comprehensive approach to family violence.
The inquiry recommended the ACT Government investigate whether sentencing based on breaches of trust, rather than breaches in the context of family relationships, may result in fairer justice outcomes.
It also called on the Attorney-General to provide an update to the Assembly on the legislation’s impact two years after the act was brought in.
Attorney-General Shane Rattenbury introduced the bill to the Legislative Assembly in February this year.
“We want to make very clear and reinstate that there is no place for violence in family and relationships and this government condemns it and we want to make the process easier for victim-survivors,” Mr Rattenbury said at the time.
As part of the sweeping amendments, the bill would follow the advocacy of 2021 Australian of the Year Grace Tame and change the name of the crime “maintaining a sexual relationship with a child” to “persistent sexual abuse of a child” .
Ms Tame had called for the change at the Meeting of Attorneys-General in November last year and previously said media reporting about her abuse had used the term ‘relationship’ which was misleading and diminished the reality of what had occurred.
“We had very clear feedback from Ms Tame that it’s an inappropriately named offence – it implies a relationship with a degree of consent which is not possible with a child,” Mr Rattenbury said.