The New South Wales Coalition will consider establishing standalone domestic violence courts, which Labor says are almost a decade overdue.
Domestic violence cases would be heard by dedicated magistrates and potentially later in specialised court buildings under the Coalition’s election pledge.
As both major parties ratchet up support for victims ahead of the March poll, the Perrottet government on Sunday announced it would create a specialist “family violence list” in three local courts to manage cases faster.
A feasibility study would examine establishing a specialist court to deal exclusively with DV matters, similar to a court operating in parts of Queensland.
The proposed policy also includes a review of sentences for DV offences, breaches of apprehended violence orders, stalking and harassment.
“We are cracking down on this abhorrent behaviour and sending a clear message to perpetrators that domestic violence will not be tolerated in our state,” the premier, Dominic Perrottet, said.
Labor said it first proposed specialised DV courts in 2014 and criticised the government for not doing enough in the space for years.
Labor, if elected, will double funding for women’s health centres, which are used mainly by people who have experienced some form of domestic and family violence.
“Advocates have been pleading with the government to do something about this and for the specialist courts for over a decade,” the deputy Labor leader, Prue Car, said.
“After 12 years in government and with domestic violence on the rise … the best they can do is a feasibility study.”
Labor highlighted that 73 of the 122 recommendations made by the NSW domestic violence death review team over the last decade had not been implemented, according to the review team’s latest report.
However, the review team noted that 39 were considered “in progress”, reflecting that many recommendations anticipate large-scale, system-wide reform.
“The team is encouraged by the fact that work has either been completed, or is progressing, on the vast majority of its recommendations,” the review team said in its 2019-21 report.
Specialist domestic violence courts operate in dozens of international jurisdictions. Queensland has had a specialist domestic violence court, at Southport on the Gold Coast, since 2017 and recently expanded the program to other locations.
A review of the Southport court found that it was less adversarial for victim-survivors, but that attendance was poor – about half of the victims, and about 60% of perpetrators, did not show up for hearings.
The evaluation by Griffith University found a lack of support for “non-traditional” victims and perpetrators, and a lack of responses for perpetrators from diverse backgrounds.
But compared with a normal magistrates court, where domestic and family matters would otherwise be held, the process was often more positive for victim-survivors, the review found. The reviewers also found the specialist court had developed a “culture of innovation” and a desire to improve the court process.
Asked on Sunday why the state government required a feasibility study before implementing the new courts, the minister for women’s safety, Natalie Ward, said the state needed to work out details, such as mechanisms for women to give evidence remotely in regional areas.
“There are some nuances where we can really look to the community and the sector about how we can best pull that together and we’d be looking to do that as quickly as possible, but I want to get that right,” Ward said.