Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Courtrooms can continue the abusive process

It seems extraordinary, but nevertheless it is an every day event. Every day in courts throughout Australia, in the Family and Federal Magistrates Courts, victims of domestic violence come within metres of their attackers. Sometimes the allegations of domestic violence are denied by the other party, and sometimes they are admitted- but even when admitted that doesn't stop the victim and perpetrator coming within a few metres of each other, or even closer when walking in and out of the court room.

An order made in a State court that says there is to be no contact by the perpetrator with the survivor- for example "The respondent shall have no contact direct or indirect personal or otherwise with the aggrieved" or a distance clause that says, for example: "The respondent shall not come within 100 metres of the aggrieved" do not prevent them from being in the same courtroom, or walking within inches of each other going into and out of the court, or from the perpetrator staring or making furtive gestures at the survivor in the courtroom or in the foyer outside.

It seems at times as though what happens in the real world outside the courtroom, of bullying and abuse, could not possibly happen in the court room because of the aura of the court environment. The reality sadly sometimes is otherwise. However, the fear can be all too real for survivors of violence,  sometimes overwhelming them.

To make it worse, if a matter proceeds to trial the perpetrator of violence can cross-examine the survivor- and continue the abuse by other means. While there is the possibility of a screen or a video link for example separating victim and perpetrator, it is not mandatory to do so, and I for one do not know how often they are used. This process of cross-examination is worsened if the perpetrator is unrepresented, which will make the cross-examination of the perpetrator look and sound like a glorified abusive and controlling argument from home, transplanted into another building.

The ABC has picked up this issue in a great story broadcast on tonight's PM. The web version is here: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2013-04-08/cuts-to-legal-aid-see-accused-rapists-cross-examining-victims/4616784.