The Crimes Act, The Bail Act & the NSW Police: Domestics and the Law

THE CRIMES ACT, THE BAIL ACT, AND THE NSW POLICE: DOMESTICS AND THE LAW

22 September 2006

INTRODUCTION

The purpose of this paper to provide an over view of the relationship between apprehended violence orders and related criminal proceedings. The perspective is that of a defense lawyer called upon to advise a person at the centre of an allegation of domestic violence. I also intend to focus on domestic violence as a legal construct.

There is a strong desire on the part of the legislature to reduce the incidence of and provide protection for victims of domestic violence. This is reflected in various laws that focus on domestic violence. Inevitably the laws relating to apprehended violence orders and bail are used to provide this additional protection.

These protections are reflected in the fact that there are significant differences for an accused at the centre of an allegation of domestic assault in terms of the treatment received in the criminal justice system. The treatment is more onerous. These provisions are fundamentally in aid of the prosecution and the assumption that they protect victims of domestic assaults relies on the belief that a victim’s interest is closely aligned to that of the prosecution. This is not always the case.

DOMESTIC VIOLENCE

The term domestic violence encompasses a wide range of aggressive behaviors that take place between persons in domestic relationships. Some behaviors are criminal some simply unpleasant. The victims are predominately woman and the perpetrators are mainly men.

The table below is from research conducted by the Australian Institute of Criminology. It includes behaviors that would not generally be classified as criminal. A greater proportion of the behaviors would be classified as criminal once an apprehended violence order is in place against a perpetrator of domestic violence. The definitions are fairly broad but they illustrate the heightened risk that an individual will have of involvement in the criminal justice system once that person is subject to an order.

Women’s experiences of current intimate partner violence during the previous 12 months by controlling behaviours (n=5,074)
SOURCE: Australian Institute of Criminology 2004. Controlling behaviours of male partners. Crime facts info no. 85, 16 November.

A killing in the home is the ultimate expression of domestic dysfunctionality. Homicide is rare. Despite this, the statistics are fairly grim when it comes to who kills who at home. According to research conducted by the Australian Institute of Criminology, the majority of female homicide victims were killed at home. The victim is almost always in a (bad) relationship with the offender and the killing is commonly precipitated by a dispute over custody of children or termination of the relationship.

The statistics clearly show that men are more frequently victims of homicide but women are overwhelming victims of ‘domestic’ homicide. Men kill each other when they are intoxicated and argue over money or drugs: women are killed by their partners in the home. The table quoted below is produced from the Australian Institute of Criminology Crimes Fact Sheet No.22.

Percentage of victims by alleged motive, 2000-2001

 

Source: Mouzos, J. 2002, Homicide in Australia: 2000-2001 National Homicide Monitoring Program (NHMP) Annual Report, Research and Public Policy Series, no. 40, Australian Institute of Criminology, Canberra.

The wretchedness of the destruction of a life, and sometimes multiple related lives, in the home colours the approach of all involved to the prevention of domestic violence. These killings are particularly nasty. The author can relate anecdotally that one such killing in an area has an immediate and profound effect on the behaviour of police and judicial officers in relation to ‘domestics’. Police are less inclined to caution rather than charge and bail becomes harder to get. The greater awareness of the problem posed by domestic violence is reflected in a number of domestic violence specific laws that have been enacted over the last 10 years.

APPREHENDED VIOLENCE

Part 15A of the Crimes Act 1990 is titled Apprehended Violence. Various predecessors to the current Part have been in the NSW Crimes Act since 1951. Orders under the Part are preventative and intended to provide protection against apprehended breaches of the law. They are foremost injunctions against breaches of the criminal law and domestic violence.

A typical order will also prohibit a person from conduct that is less than criminal such has harassing and intimidating the person in need of protection (‘PINOP’) and stop the defendant attending places frequented by the PINOP. A knowing contravention of an order is a criminal offence punishable by up to 2 years imprisonment.

There is in fact no such thing as an AVO. There are apprehended domestic violence orders (ADVOs) and apprehended personal violence orders (APVOs). The defining characteristic is the relationship between the person in need of protection (PINOP) and the defendant. If you are in a domestic relationship with the one you fear you get an APVO, everyone else gets an APVO. There is no great difference once an order is in place and the process is broadly similar.

Apprehended domestic violence orders (APVO) are commonly applied for and obtain in response to an allegation of domestic violence. Frequently the parties will continue to live together or resume cohabitation at some stage during the proceedings. Proceedings for an APVO will run in tandem with criminal prosecutions generally for assault or malicious damage. The police will apply for the ADVO on behalf of the PINOP. The PINOP will also generally be the main prosecution witness for the criminal charge.

LEGISLATIVE RECOGNITION OF DOMESTIC VIOLENCE.

The NSW Crimes Act 1900 contains definitions of ‘domestic violence offences’ and ‘personal violence offences’. The relevant definitions states:

‘Domestic violence offence’ means a personal violence offence committed against:
(a) a person who is or has been married to the person who commits the offence, or
(b) a person who has or has had a de facto relationship, within the meaning of the Property (Relationships) Act 1984 , with the person who commits the offence, or
(c) a person who has or has had an intimate personal relationship with the person who commits the offence, whether or not the intimate relationship involves or has involved a relationship of a sexual nature, or
(d) a person who is living or has lived in the same household or other residential facility as the person who commits the offence, or
(e) a person who has or has had a relationship involving his or her dependence on the ongoing paid or unpaid care of the person who commits the offence, or
(f) a person who is or has been a relative (within the meaning of section 4 (6)) of the person who commits the offence.

‘Personal violence offence’ means:
(a) an offence under, or mentioned in, section 19, 24, 27, 28, 29, 30, 33, 33A, 35, 39, 41, 44, 46, 47, 48, 49, 58, 59 (assault occasioning actual bodily harm), 61 (common assault), 61B, 61C, 61D, 61E, 61I, 61J, 61JA, 61K, 61L, 61M, 61N, 61O, 195 (maliciously destroy property), 196, 198, 199, 200 or 562I (contravene apprehended violence order), or
(b) an offence of attempting to commit an offence referred to in paragraph (a).

All the offences that will be commonly charged after a ‘domestic’ are personal violence offences and capable of being domestic violence offences.

APPREHENDED VIOLENCE

Part 15A of the Crimes Act 1990 is titled Apprehended Violence. Various predecessors to the current Part have been in the NSW Crimes Act since 1951. Orders under the Part are preventative and intended to provide protection against apprehended breaches of the law. They are foremost injunctions against breaches of the criminal law and domestic violence.

A typical order will also prohibit a person from conduct that is less than criminal such has harassing and intimidating the person in need of protection (‘PINOP’) and stop the defendant attending places frequented by the PINOP. A knowing contravention of an order is a criminal offence punishable by up to 2 years imprisonment.

There is in fact no such thing as an AVO. There are apprehended domestic violence orders (ADVOs) and apprehended personal violence orders (APVOs). The defining characteristic is the relationship between the person in need of protection (PINOP) and the defendant. If you are in a domestic relationship with the one you fear you get an APVO, everyone else gets an APVO. There is no great difference once an order is in place and the process is broadly similar.

Apprehended domestic violence orders (APVO) are commonly applied for and obtain in response to an allegation of domestic violence. Frequently the parties will continue to live together or resume cohabitation at some stage during the proceedings. Proceedings for an APVO will run in tandem with criminal prosecutions generally for assault or malicious damage. The police will apply for the ADVO on behalf of the PINOP. The PINOP will also generally be the main prosecution witness for the criminal charge.

LEGISLATIVE RECOGNITION OF DOMESTIC VIOLENCE.

The NSW Crimes Act 1900 contains definitions of ‘domestic violence offences’ and ‘personal violence offences’. The relevant definitions states:

‘Domestic violence offence’ means a personal violence offence committed against:
(a) a person who is or has been married to the person who commits the offence, or
(b) a person who has or has had a de facto relationship, within the meaning of the Property (Relationships) Act 1984 , with the person who commits the offence, or
(c) a person who has or has had an intimate personal relationship with the person who commits the offence, whether or not the intimate relationship involves or has involved a relationship of a sexual nature, or
(d) a person who is living or has lived in the same household or other residential facility as the person who commits the offence, or
(e) a person who has or has had a relationship involving his or her dependence on the ongoing paid or unpaid care of the person who commits the offence, or
(f) a person who is or has been a relative (within the meaning of section 4 (6)) of the person who commits the offence.

‘Personal violence offence’ means:
(a) an offence under, or mentioned in, section 19, 24, 27, 28, 29, 30, 33, 33A, 35, 39, 41, 44, 46, 47, 48, 49, 58, 59 (assault occasioning actual bodily harm), 61 (common assault), 61B, 61C, 61D, 61E, 61I, 61J, 61JA, 61K, 61L, 61M, 61N, 61O, 195 (maliciously destroy property), 196, 198, 199, 200 or 562I (contravene apprehended violence order), or
(b) an offence of attempting to commit an offence referred to in paragraph (a).

All the offences that will be commonly charged after a ‘domestic’ are personal violence offences and capable of being domestic violence offences.

THE COMPELLABILITY OF WITNESSES

The main prosecution witness often gets less enthusiastic about giving evidence for the police as time elapses. Practitioner will be frequently confronted with questions about ‘dropping the charges’. The correct reply to this is of course that the continuance of the prosecution is a question for the police.

Often in cases concerning domestic assaults, and proceedings for apprehended violence orders, the prosecution will be relying on only one witness. Once this witness becomes unreliable, the prosecution’s reasonable prospect of a conviction disappears.

From my experience, an absence of reliable evidence does not deter the NSW police in continuing a prosecution. The NSW police will not discontinue a prosecution concerning domestic violence on the basis that the principal witness does not want the matter to proceed. Many prosecutions fail due to the reluctance of the complainant to attend and give evidence. There is no property in a witness and there is nothing wrong with a practitioner talking to any witness in a proceeding if that witness is willing to communicate with the practitioner. Practitioners should deal with prosecution witnesses with carefully.

The basic consideration for both practitioners and accused is that any witness must not be in any way influenced about his or her evidence. Suborning perjury or perverting the cause of justice is a serious criminal offence. Any practitioner should make it very clear to an accused that if he or she seeks to influence any witness in giving anything less than a complete and truthful account of events that this is a serious criminal offence. From a practitioner point of view, if the accused and complainant attend a conference together, I usually ask the accused to leave the room and clarify with the complainant that he or she is not being put under any pressure to seek the withdrawal of the prosecution. I also obtain signed instructions to this effect.

The witnesses should have the effect of being subject to a subpoena explained to them. Further, the witness should also have some of the practicalities of giving evidence explained. It should be noted to the witness that if he or she gives evidence that contradicts his or her earlier statement, the witness could be declared an unfavourable witness in terms of section 38 of the Evidence Act.

There is a qualified spousal privilege provided at section 18 of the Evidence Act 1995. A person who, when required to give evidence, is the ’spouse, de facto spouse, parent or child of a defendant’ may object to being required to giving evidence. According to subsection 18(6):

A person who makes an objection under this section to giving evidence or giving evidence of a communication must not be required to give the evidence if the court finds that:

(a) there is a likelihood that harm would or might be caused (whether directly or indirectly) to the person, or to the relationship between the person and the defendant, if the person gives the evidence.

The court should also have regard to (according to subsection 18(7):

(b) the nature and extent of that harm outweighs the desirability of
(a) the nature and gravity of the offence for which the defendant is being prosecuted,
(b) the substance and importance of any evidence that the person might give and the weight that is likely to be attached to it,
(c) whether any other evidence concerning the matters to which the evidence of the person would relate is reasonably available to the prosecutor,
(d) the nature of the relationship between the defendant and the person,
(e) whether, in giving the evidence, the person would have to disclose matter that was received by the person in confidence from the defendant.

The objection needs to come from the witness and generally should be made when the witness is called to give evidence. As a matter of practicality it can be made at the start of the prosecution case as frequently, if the objection succeeds, the prosecution will not have a prima facie case.

Section 279 of the Criminal Procedure Act 1986 is titled Compellability of spouces to give evidence in certain proceedings. The section appears to be designed to clarify that spouses are compellable against each other in domestic violence offences. Section 279 is much narrower than section 18 of the Evidence Act. The section also provides a means for spouses to be excused from giving evidence if the spouce wishes to be excused and does so ‘freely and independently of threat or any other improper influence’, their evidence is ‘relatively unimportant’ and other evidence is available and if the alleged offence is of a minor nature. Further, the court must state its reason for excusing the witness and record those reasons. The provision is significantly more restrictive than section 18. Theoretically any person who is the sole witness to a minor domestic assault and in a relationship with the accused should not be excused from giving evidence due to section 279.

As a subsequent specific enactment designed to deal with domestic violence section 279 qualifies the earlier general enactment of section 18. Section 279 applies to domestic violence offences, section 18 to other proceedings.

SENTENCING CONSIDERATIONS

Common assault is punishable by 2 years imprisonment. A person who knowingly contravenes a prohibition or restriction specified in an order (section 562I, Crimes Act) is also guilty of an offence that carries a maximum of 2 years imprisonment. The 2 offences can be constituted by identical facts. The offence created by section 562I can be committed when an offender does things that would not constitute an assault. Contravention of an order will generally be considered a more serious offence as it involves the addition element of a breach of a court order. Offenders are routinely imprisoned for serious or repeated contraventions of orders.

After a finding of guilt, the sentencing tribunal in NSW for a NSW criminal offence is required to sentence a person in accordance with the aggravating, mitigating and other factors set out in section 21A of the Crimes (Sentencing Procedure) Act 1999. This section is a part codification of sentencing principles and needs to be scrutinized in relation to any serious criminal offence. An element of an offence cannot be an aggravating factor (Ibrahimi [2005] NSWCCA 153).

Contravention of an order is an element of the offence of contravention of an order. Therefore disregard of a court order is not an aggravating factor. Many magistrates sentence persons who are convicted of contravening an order on the basis that disregard of the order is an aggravating factor. It is not and some regard should be had to fact that the Parliament has determined that it has the same maximum penalty as common assault.

One of the reasons why contravention of the order is a serious offence is that offenders will frequently be recalcitrant. Offenders should be warned about some of the risks of persisting in their recalcitrance. According to section 22 of the Crimes Sentencing Procedure Act, a plea of guilty must be taken into account. Running a hearing and forcing the victim to give evidence will not ‘facilitate the course of justice’ as the High Court in Cameron (2002) 76 ALJR 382 sought to characterize what was previously known as the utilitarian discount.

The guideline judgment on pleas of guilty is still relevant and according to Thomson & Houlton (2000) 49 NSWLR 383, the utilitarian value of a plea should be assessed in the range of 10-25%. This is before other considerations such as contrition are taken into account. A discount of 25% is a fairly common for a plea of guilty.

Alcohol may aggravate an offence as it demonstrates reckless or mitigate as it show that an offence is out of character: Coleman (1990) 47 A Crim R 306.

The fact that an offence is committed by a person in a domestic relationship with the victim is not an aggravating factor. The courts have nevertheless made it clear that a domestic context does not excuse an offence or make it less serious.

In Powell (1999) NSW CCA 13 March 2000, the Court of Criminal Appeal emphasized in the case of an Aboriginal offender with a history of disadvantage and alcohol abuse that ‘violent acts in domestic situations must be treated with real seriousness’.

Similarly in Fahda (Abdulrahman) [1999] NSWCCA 267, the Court of Criminal Appeal, stated in relation to a violent assault by an mentally disturbed man on his wife (at 26):

Generally speaking, as a matter of public policy… a merciful attitude by the victim of an offence of domestic violence ought not to influence a sentencing decision – any more than an unforgiving or vengeful attitude by the victim ought to do so. Domestic violence is a problem of considerable proportions in this community and the courts must be strong to ensure that it is adequately punished. Victims ought not be placed in a position where they hold, or appear to hold, the keys to the offenders’ release. To put them in that position is to impose on them a burden they ought not be required to bear.

In Fahda, the Court of Criminal Appeal traversed some well known authorities concerning the application of general deterrence in relation to persons affected by mental illness or a developmental disability. In R v Letteri (unreported, NSW CCA, 18 March 1992) Badgery-Parker J said:

There is ample authority for the proposition that in the case of an offender suffering from a mental disorder or abnormality, general deterrence is a factor which should be given relatively less weight than in other cases because such an offender is not an appropriate medium for making an example to others: Moonie (sic) (CCA Victoria, unreported 21 June 1978); Anderson (1980) 2 A Crim R 379; Kilmartin (1989) 41 A Crim R 22; Man (1990) 50 A Crim R 79; Currie (CCA unreported 25 February 1992).

It should be noted that while general deterrence may be diminished, in the case of mentally unwell accused who continually commits serious domestic assaults specific deterrence will fill the vacuum. Incapacitation is also an implicit consideration in such matters. Mental illness will not necessarily assist an offender avoid punishment.

Suspended sentence under section 12 of the Crime (Sentencing
Procedure) Act 1999 should approached with care. Once a section 12 bond is breached the best that an offender can do is periodic detention. Frequently such bonds are for durations that are longer than what would be the appropriate sentence of imprisonment. There are also issues with the setting of the ratio between non-parole period and the head sentence and the finding of ’special circumstances’. The current position of the Court of Criminal Appeal is that the ratio should be set at the time that the bond is given rather that when it is quashed which means that an offender’s circumstances at the time of effectively being sentenced are not taken into account (see: Tolley [2004] NSWCCA 165).

CONCLUSION

In 1988, the then Chief Justice of NSW Street noted in Bradford NSWCCA 6 May 1988 in relation to a appellant who had very badly beaten his wife and then resumed cohabitation with her that ‘punishment can properly be tempered in the light of the victim’s attitude.’ This approached that reflected a view that there was something private about domestic violence has been comprehensively rejected.

The various provisions the subject of this paper are in combination all designed to ensure that a crime committed in the home is treated as serious as a crime committed in a public place against a stranger. The ultimate objective is the reduction of violence which is an undeniably power one.

Getting Help

 

This article is intended to provide a guide to the operation of section 10, and the requirements defendants must keep in mind when considering applying for it. Section 10 is among the most sought after orders by defendants in the local courts, particularly by those charged with traffic offences.

This is due to the fact that section 10 of the Crimes (Sentencing Procedure) Act 1999 gives the court the discretion to find a person guilty of an offence, but nevertheless discharge that person without proceeding to conviction. Section 10 was initially introduced in order to allow the courts to prevent injustices occurring in certain circumstances where even though a legal offence had been committed, the extenuating circumstances made it inappropriate to punish the defendant.

Because there is no conviction recorded, a major benefit of section 10 is that it means that first-time offenders will not receive a criminal record, and there is no loss of a driver’s license or any other penalty imposed for the offence.

Requirements under Section 10

Section 10(3) of the Crimes (Sentencing Procedure) Act 1999 establishes the factors that should be taken into account by the court when it is considering section 10. These include;

(a) the person’s character, antecedents, age, health and mental condition,

(b) the trivial nature of the offence,

(c) the extenuating circumstances in which the offence was committed, and

(d) any other matter that the court thinks proper to consider.

These matters must be addressed by any defendant applying to the court for a section 10 conditional discharge, as the court takes them into account when determining whether it should be given. The court can then make any of the following orders:

  • An order directing that the relevant charge be dismissed under section 10(1)(a). The charges will be outright dismissed, the court will impose no further conditions, and there will be nothing recorded on the criminal record
  • An order discharging the person, subject to the condition that the person enters into a good behaviour bond not exceeding a maximum time period of two years under section 10(1)(b). The good behaviour bond will at minimum require the offender not to commit any further offences within the bond’s applicable time period, advise the court of any address changes, and require that the offender appear before the court when requested to do so.
  • An order discharging the person subject to the condition that they enter into an agreement to participate in an intervention program, and to comply with any intervention plan arising out of that program. This means that under section 10(1)(c), the defendant will be obligated to successfully participate in a rehabilitation course of some kind, and any related action plan that is specified in the intervention program.

Section 10 and traffic offences

A section 10 order is particularly beneficial for defendants charged with PCA or other traffic offences, because they will be exempt from the mandatory license disqualification periods which can only be applied following conviction. The NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research has found that since its introduction, there has been a large increase over the last ten years in the use of section 10 and a corresponding decline in the use of licence disqualifications in local courts. Between 1993 and 2002 the overall percentage of PCA cases dealt with under section 10 rose by 22 percentage points for low-range PCA offenders, 12 percentage points for mid-range PCA offenders and 5 percentage points for high-range PCA offenders. At the same time, statistics indicate that the percentage of cases where an offender’s licence was disqualified fell by 18 percentage points for low-range PCA offences, 12 percentage points for mid-range PCA offences and 5 percentage points for high-range PCA offences.

However, it should be noted that if an offender has committed a traffic offence that would cause an automatic loss of demerit points, resulting in the loss of their license, this occurs regardless of whether the court dismisses the offence under section 10.

In R v Nguyen [2002] NSWCCA it was held that the dismissal of charges against first-time offenders is appropriate in certain circumstances, in order to allow them to preserve their reputation of good character. However, in relation to mid-range and high-range PCA offences the courts have generally indicated a far greater reluctance to consider a section 10 order.

In the guideline judgment Re Attorney General’s Application under s 37 Crimes (Sentencing Procedure) Act 1999(2004) 61 NSWLR 305, the court stated that “where the offence committed is objectively a serious one and where general deterrence and denunciation are important factors in sentencing for that offence, the scope for the operation of the section decreases.”

The court explained that as alcohol is continuously consumed, not only does the risk of intoxication increase but also the potential seriousness of the offence. Therefore, while for low-range PCA offences the court could conceivably accept that an offender was unaware they had exceeded the limit, this would be much more doubtful for high-range PCA offences, and section 10 would therefore be inappropriate. Furthermore, section 187 of theRoad Transport (General) Act 2005, which deals with a court’s power to impose penalties and disqualify offenders’ driver’s licences, also restricts section 10 bonds from being given where the offender has already received one in the previous 5 years.

While the section 10 order is an understandably popular order in court, particularly for first-time or traffic offenders, defendants should ensure that they understand all of the legal requirements that must be satisfied before they attempt to obtain one.

If you have any questions about how appropriate section 10 would be to your current circumstances or need any further information, please contact us.

Getting Help

Aston Legal Solicitors and Barristers
Level 11
111 Elizabeth Street
Sydney NSW 2000

Tel: 02 9635 3777
Fax: 02 9223 0276
Email: info@www.astonlegal.dev
Web: www.www.astonlegal.dev

 

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