This report examines sentencing outcomes for contravention of family violence intervention orders over two periods: 2004–05 to 2006–07 and 2009–10 to 2011–12. It also examines sentencing outcomes for contravention of family violence safety notices, which became available in December 2008 upon the commencement of the Family Violence Protection Act 2008 (Vic).
The Use of Family Violence Intervention Orders and Safety Notices (Chapter 2)
Underlying trends in the use of intervention orders and safety notices have influenced sentencing outcomes for contravention.
The nature and extent of intervention order use has changed significantly, particularly since the introduction of the Family Violence Protection Act in 2008. Since 2004–05, there has been:
- an 82.2% increase in the number of intervention orders made by the Magistrates’ Court
- a 72.8% increase in reports of family violence incidents to Victoria Police
- a 295.4% increase in the number of children named as protected persons on intervention orders. Children now represent the single largest category of protected persons (46.1% of protected persons in 2011–12)
- an increase in family violence intervention orders initiated by Victoria Police. By 2011–12, the majority (67%) of intervention orders were initiated by Victoria Police. In 2004–05, a minority (41%) of intervention orders were initiated by Victoria Police.
Sentencing Outcomes for Intervention Order and Safety Notice Contravention (Chapter 4)
The sentencing outcomes for contravention of intervention orders have changed significantly. Between 2004–05 to 2006–07 and 2009–10 to 2011–12:
- Fines, adjourned undertakings and community orders remained the most common sentences for intervention order contravention, but the distribution of these sentences changed markedly.
- Fines were imposed in 25.8% of cases (a decline of 30.5%), adjourned undertakings were imposed in 23.4% of cases (an increase of 27.1%) and community orders were imposed in 19.2% of cases (an increase of 9.1%).
- The sentencing outcomes for safety notice contravention were very similar to the sentencing outcomes for intervention order contravention.
- The use of fines declined by 34% in cases where the contravention offence was the only offence sentenced, and by 32% in cases where co-occurring offences were sentenced alongside the contravention offence. Accordingly, there was a shift away from fines even when controlling for wider criminality.
- For repeat intervention order contravention (that is, where an offender had previously been sentenced for contravening an intervention order), the use of fines almost halved and custodial sentences increased. As a result, imprisonment became, by a small margin, the most common sentence in repeat contravention cases (21.7% of cases).
- The shift away from fines was unique to contravention offences and did not reflect broader sentencing trends in the Magistrates’ Court.
Explaining the Change in Sentencing Outcomes (Chapter 5)
Based on consultations with stakeholders, the Council concludes that a change in sentencing practices – rather than a change in the nature of the contravention behaviour – is responsible for the most recent sentencing outcomes. Stakeholders consistently remarked on a cultural shift in the response to family violence by key criminal justice institutions, particularly the courts and police.
The legislative and procedural reforms of the past five to ten years have brought about this process of cultural change. These reforms include:
- the introduction of the Family Violence Protection Act 2008 (Vic);
- procedural changes by Victoria Police, particularly pursuant to the revised Code of Practice for the Investigation of Family Violence, published in 2010; and
- the increasingly specialised nature of family violence decision-making and service provision in the Magistrates’ Court.
Stakeholders commented that there is now a deeper understanding of the nature of family violence on the part of magistrates and police, which has in turn affected the sentences imposed for intervention order and safety notice contravention.