Amendments to the legislation regarding domestic violence
On 15 October 2015, new laws were passed in Parliament regarding Domestic Violence in Queensland. The Criminal Law (Domestic Violence) Amendment Bill 2015 has introduced the following amendments to existing legislation:
Increase in penalties
There has been an increase in the maximum penalty of section 177 of the Domestic and Family Violence Protection Act 2012:
- To 5 years imprisonment if, within 5 years of committing the offence, there is a previous conviction of a domestic violence offence* (previously the maximum penalty was 3 years imprisonment if there was a previous conviction of a contravening a Domestic Violence Protection Order).
- To 3 years imprisonment otherwise (an increase from 2 years imprisonment).
Giving victims special witness status in proceedings
Additional protection has been afforded to victims of domestic violence. This was done by including persons whom domestic violence has been (or is alleged to have been) committed against as ‘special witnesses’ under the Qld Evidence Act 1977 definition. This means that if they are required to give evidence in any proceedings, the court may order that:
- the person charged or other party to the proceeding be excluded from the room in which the court is sitting or be obscured from the view of the special witness while the special witness is giving evidence or is required to appear in court for any other purpose;
- that, while the special witness is giving evidence, all persons other than those specified by the court be excluded from the courtroom;
- that the special witness give evidence in a room—
- other than the courtroom; and
- from which all persons other than those specified by the court are excluded;
- that a support person be present while the special witness is giving evidence;
- that a video-taped recording of the evidence of the special witness or any portion of it be made under such conditions as are specified in the order and that the video-taped evidence be viewed and heard in the proceeding instead of the direct testimony of the special witness
- another order or direction the court considers appropriate about the giving of evidence by the special witness, including, for example, any of the following
- a direction about rest breaks for the special witness
- a direction that questions for the special witness be kept simple;
- a direction that questions for the special witness be limited by time;
- a direction that the number of questions for a special witness on a particular issue be limited.
Convictions for Domestic Violence Offences
The Courts now have an ability to order that a previous conviction be recorded on a person’s criminal history as a domestic violence offence. This can only be enlivened if the accused is charged and convicted of a Domestic Violence Offence after the amendments commence. The power of this addition is its ability to flag to police and Courts looking at a person’s criminal history that the individual has a history of domestic violence, which will prompt them to make further inquiries so the issue can be properly considered and dealt with.
Definition of a ‘Domestic Violence Offence’
The definition of a ‘Domestic Violence Offence’ has also been added in the new amendments. This will appear in section 1 of the Queensland Criminal Code. It states:
Domestic violence offence means an offence against an Act, other than the Domestic and Family Violence Protection Act 2012, committed by a person where the act done, or omission made, which constitutes the offence is also—
- domestic violence or associated domestic violence, under the Domestic and Family Violence Protection Act 2012, committed by the person; or
- a contravention of the Domestic and Family Violence Protection Act 2012, section 177(2) – i.e. A contravention of a Domestic Violence Protection Order.