A lot of criminal and family lawyers are these days complaining that a big chunk of their practice is now being spent dealing with civil protection order applications under Queensland’s Domestic and Family Violence Protection Act. It seems a conspiracy of events and consequential political and policy considerations has created a booming new niche area in legal professional services, and the magistrates courts are run off their feet to keep up.In the wake of a series of shocking domestic attacks, in recent years the Queensland Police Service has clearly instructed its troops in the field that whenever there is any suggestion of violence between spouses, protection application proceedings are to be launched in the court, regardless of what denials may be proffered or what evidence may be revealed. So, with the legislative definition of violence extending to everything from the most vicious physical attack through to far less injurious behaviour like reading a person’s SMS messages or emails, or contacting them on Facebook, a lot of protection application proceedings are launched.
And it’s an open secret amongst police prosecutors and lawyers that, at least since the awful 2015 murder of Gold Coast woman Tara Brown by her former partner (a violent ex-bikie with a history of domestic violence), the big brass in the QPS have enshrined a blanket policy that once such proceedings are launched, they will not be withdrawn under any circumstances. That means that once someone says there was “violence” the matter is going to court, no matter what happens, and if the respondent doesn’t consent to an order being made, it’s going to a fully-blown trial for a magistrate to determine the outcome.
The policy has caused some chagrin on the part of police prosecutors sometimes called on to advocate domestic violence applications in cases where limited if any initial investigation and/or the impact of subsequent events have rendered the prospects of the application tenuous or worse.
I was recently involved in a typical example. In that case, when my client’s wife left him there was a dispute over matrimonial property. She went to the police and complained her husband had assaulted her. Without further investigating, and without even seeking a response from my client, the police filed proceedings and immediately arranged for the wife to collect all her property from her husband. As soon as that happened, she disavowed her assault complaint and asked the police to discontinue the protection proceedings. When the police declined, she sent them a statement correcting her earlier complaint, and again urging the police to withdraw the proceedings.
Again they declined. When the matter eventually came to court, the wife declined to attend, citing her statement and telling the police she wanted no part in the proceedings. The prosecutor tried but was unable to convince anyone in the QPS big brass to authorise the withdrawal of the proceedings. So the matter proceeded to a fully-blown trial, prosecuted on the hearsay evidence of the wife’s original complaint. Predictably, the application was ultimately dismissed, but only after a magistrate, a courtroom, court staff, a prosecutor, police, defence lawyers and witnesses had chewed up a full day of valuable resources.
It’s certainly boom business for lawyers.
Jonathan Nyst, Lawyer, Gold Coast