Domestic violence victims being failed by WA Magistrates Court, committee finds


The Magistrates Court of Western Australia is failing to manage an increasing level of family and domestic violence-related matters, leaving victims exposed at a time when they are most vulnerable, a parliamentary committee has found.

The report, from the Community Development and Justice Standing Committee, was tabled in the Lower House on Thursday and made 84 findings and 72 recommendations after a year-long inquiry.

Committee chair Peter Katsambanis said while there had been a commitment across government to tackle the problem for the past decade or so, efforts had fallen short.

“Incidents of family and domestic violence (FDV) are increasing, applications to the court by victims for family violence restraining orders (FVRO) are increasing and the system is groaning at the seams,” he said.

“We’ve heard over the COVID period in particular that the prevalence of family and domestic violence is increasing and that is horrifying.

“We need to break the cycle, we need to open the doors up for victims to get proper justice, and we need to find ways to get perpetrators to change their behaviour.”

Restraining order applications skyrocket

According to the report, between 2016-17 and 2018-19 applications for FVROs increased by 38 per cent and crime statistics from WA Police have also demonstrated an increase in FDV-related incidents.

The inquiry heard from a number of organisations, service providers and individuals, many of whom raised the matter of lengthy wait times.

One case study cited in the report waited more than three years for a restraining order to be issued.

Peter Katsambanis said the increase in family and domestic violence in WA was “horrifying”.(ABC News: Eliza Laschon)

Mr Katsambanis said there was no single solution to the problem.

“It needs a serious investment in both magistrates and staff support services, legal services and, importantly, training,” he said.

“Family and domestic violence is complex, it manifests itself in many different ways.

“We’re learning more and more about it, and there needs to be a commitment to ongoing training for magistrates so they can specialise in this area, and for all of the court staff as well as the people who are providing support services.”

Violence against Aboriginal women ‘confronting’

An Aboriginal woman in WA is 45 times more likely to experience family violence than a non-Aboriginal woman, a statistic Mr Katsambanis said was “extremely confronting”.

“That’s not good enough,” he said.

“When you delve into those figures a bit further you find that although Aboriginal women are victims to around 33 per cent of all family and domestic violence offences, they only apply for family violence related restraining orders around 11 per cent of the time.”

A woman is painting a didgeridoo and smoking a cigarette
Aboriginal women are 45 times more likely to be the victims of family violence than other women.(ABC News: Owain Stia-James)

The report found many of WA’s magistrate court buildings were outdated and required upgrades to include separate entrances and rooms to ensure victims felt safe.

It also identified a need for the court to update its website to be more user-friendly, highlighting it currently had no language other than English available.

More support and funding for community legal centres and legal aid was recommended, so both victims and perpetrators could receive adequate legal advice.

More WA family violence murders

According to the report, in 2018 there were 37 family violence-related homicides in WA, the largest number reported of all states that year.

Community Legal Centres Association (WA) executive director Sharryn Jackson told the committee earlier this year about ABC journalist Annabel Crabb’s 2015 comment that if the number of people being bitten by sharks in Australia equated to the number of women killed through domestic violence, we would drain the oceans.

A sign saying 'domestic violence is a crime' on a filing cabinet, with a Queensland police officer in background.
Police statistics show an increase in domestic violence offences.(ABC News: Ashleigh Stevenson)

Ms Jackson told the inquiry there had been 12 WA shark attack deaths since 2010, and in 2020 alone the WA Government was spending $28 million on shark mitigation strategies.

“I find that comparison breathtaking,” she said.

The report’s recommendations will now go to the relevant government ministers, who will have three months to respond.



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