A new court which aims to help almost 50 family violence offenders each year to break the cycle of abuse opened in Midland today.
Attorney General Jim McGinty said the court was part of an $11.5million project to establish a network of five new specialist Family Violence Courts across the metropolitan area.
“Many adults and children are trapped in families in which one family member is frequently violent,” Mr McGinty said.
“This court will offer offenders the chance to stop their recurring violent behaviour and help protect their families.
“The family violence courts handle offenders who have pleaded guilty in a magistrate’s court and who agree to complete a rehabilitation program of up to six months’ duration to address their behaviour.
“These courts are not a soft option. The offender will still be convicted and sentenced by a magistrate. However, successful completion of a rehabilitation program will be taken into account at the time of sentencing.
“If offenders do not complete the stringent rehabilitation conditions, the court can terminate the program and this will be considered in the final sentence handed down.
“When offenders successfully complete the program and change their behaviour, there can be significant benefits for family members, friends and the entire community.”
A case management team, comprising staff from the Family Violence Service, Community Justice Services, WA Police, Department of Child Protection and various program providers will monitor the progress of an offender. The team will make an assessment of the offender’s progress, which is presented to the sentencing magistrate for consideration.
The Midland Court follows the opening of the Fremantle and Rockingham family violence courts last year and the Joondalup Court in 2000.
The court is part of the State Government’s focus on reducing family violence in Western Australia. Similar courts will open in Armadale and Perth later this year.
It follows the introduction of new laws in 2004, which made it easier and safer for people to report domestic violence. Since then, there has been a marked increase in the number of cases reported to police.
Prior to the changes, there were 11,000 reported incidents of domestic violence per year in WA. In 2006, there were 22,205 reported offences, of which 53 per cent were prosecuted.
The legislation also saw the introduction of police orders which enabled police to remove violent offenders immediately from the home for 24 or 72 hours.
In 2005, there were 5,394 police orders given and 7,563 orders in 2007.
Another significant change was the introduction of a specific restraining order for domestic violence. In 2007, there were 7,502 Violence Restraining Orders issued by the courts.
Since 2002, 1,407 Violence Restraining Orders applications have been lodged against family members or partners in the Midland Court alone, and 402 of those were during the 2006-07 financial year.
Mr McGinty said that like the Rockingham and Fremantle family violence courts, the Midland court would have a particular, though not exclusive, focus on family violence in the Aboriginal community.
“Aboriginal people are about 45 times more likely to be victims of domestic violence than non-Aboriginal people,” he said.
“With the help and guidance of the Family Violence Court Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Reference Group, this court aims to provide services that cater to the needs of Aboriginal people.
“It is hoped that these courts will be a place for victims to turn to and for offenders to understand their behaviour and take steps to better their lives.”
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