Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme: The Right to Know or an Unjustified Intrusion on Privacy?

Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme: The Right to Know or an Unjustified Intrusion on Privacy?

New South Wales residents may soon be able to call a hotline or access an online portal to check if the person they claim to be their partner has a history of domestic violence.

The proposal builds on a pilot scheme which was first tested in a number of areas of the state, including Tamworth, Nowra, St George and Sutherland from 2016.

That trial required applicants to attend a police station to apply, and met with mixed results.

Only 50 applications were made under the scheme over a two-year period and the criticisms include:

Applicants found the requirement to attend a police station prohibitive and difficult, and those targeted raised issues of abuse, and expressed the view that they should be able to put their past behind them and move forward to move on with their lives, rather than have their privacy violated and confronted. further stigmatization.

There are concerns that the potential for abuse will be exacerbated by the ease with which applications can be made under the proposed scheme.

The right to know

The revised scheme will allow anyone to make an application to access information about whether a person they claim to be a partner has a history of domestic violence. The target will have no say in the matter – however, the applicant will have to claim that he or she believes the information is necessary to prevent a threat to life or health.

The proposed amendments to the law would create an exception to privacy protection, thereby circumventing it.

The best use of domestic violence funds?

The New South Wales Government has yet to finalize all the details of the proposed scheme, and some have expressed the view that it may not be the best use of limited funds for domestic violence support services.

Public sentiment was mixed, perhaps echoing the response of former New South Wales Bar Association president Doug Humphreys, who said “Domestic violence is a complex issue that is not amenable to simple solutions.”

Few would argue that this is one way people can aim to stay safe when meeting a new partner, but there is still not a significant amount of evidence to suggest that such schemes are effective and there are questions about whether the money that will be spent on the service can be better directed elsewhere.

In 2017, the Queensland Law Reform Commission advised the state government not to implement a disclosure scheme, stating that funds would be better spent on frontline services.

Frontline services are desperately underfunded and are essential – and in many cases lifesaving – for those experiencing domestic violence.

More emergency accommodation, and facilitated access to legal and psychological support also top the list of needs. As well as the need for more focused training for first responders, particularly the police, to address specific failings highlighted in two reports last year – one by the NSW Auditor General which determined that the NSW Police were not doing the same level of resources to deal with. family and domestic violence that occurs in other states.

And a second report, by Domestic Violence NSW – the state’s peak body for specialist services – found a majority of victims felt re-traumatised or humiliated after their interactions with police, rather than supported.

Top of the election agenda

Following the announcement that the disclosure scheme would be extended, the government also undertook to review sentences relating to domestic violence. The review will be conducted by the Sentencing Council. The recent parliamentary select committee inquiry into coercive control heard major concerns about the adequacy of sentencing for breaches of apprehended violence orders.

The NSW Government has also committed to undertaking a feasibility study to establish a dedicated domestic and family violence court, in the wake of recently released statistics showing the average time to contest a domestic violence case has blown out from 160 days before Covid to 270 days at the end of the last financial year.

According to the figures, about 37 percent of pending local court criminal hearings are related to domestic violence.

Dealing with the ‘shadow pandemic’

The pandemic has naturally caused major delays in all the courts. But it has also caused an increase in cases of domestic violence, as in most countries around the world – a result of restrictions, financial pressure, job losses, isolation from social connections and family and friends.

The NSW Government has also promised class victims of domestic violence as first home buyers, even if they already own property with a former partner, allowing them to access the Coalition’s new land tax scheme.

Labor has promised to match the latter if elected to power. It has also committed to establishing a specialist multicultural family and domestic violence center in south-west Sydney if elected to specifically provide services to migrants and refugees.

It’s clear that domestic violence is at the center of the run-up to the March election, and that’s good news.

But many experts have long agreed that New South Wales does not necessarily lack specialist Domestic Violence services, but a lack of funding for existing services, which are struggling to keep up with demand. Uncertain funding also makes long-term planning impossible.

There have also long been calls for a much more co-ordinated approach – not just through the provision of domestic violence support services, but from the very first contact with the police or other emergency workers, be they paramedics or hospital staff, to access and navigation. the legal system.

We also as a community need to stop assuming that all victims of domestic violence are ‘women’ and constantly referring to victims as ‘women and children’.

Yes, women and children are the overwhelming majority of victims – that fact is not in dispute.

But in about one third of cases, men are victims of domestic and family violence. They also desperately need access to services, but are often overlooked because the numbers of male victims tend to be vastly underreported.

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