The Australian: Domestic abuse law ‘hard to police’

The NSW Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions says new laws to ban coercive control would help to deter oppressive behaviour and allow domestic violence survivors to provide courts with a fuller picture of the abuse they have suffered.

However, it has warned that coercive control would be a “very difficult offence to successfully prosecute”, especially in the ­absence of physical violence.

NSW Attorney-General Mark Speakman launched an ­inquiry last year into whether new laws should ban coercive control — a pattern of oppression that can include controlling a victim’s money, appearance, movement and contact with family, which has been described as a “red flag for murder”.

The ODPP has given its “cautious support” to the introduction of coercive control laws in a submission to the inquiry, but said consideration should be given to appointing specialist ­investigators, prosecutors and judges to handle any cases.

Analysis of all domestic violence intimate partner murder-suicides in NSW over the past 18 years reveals that physical violence preceded the deaths in less than half of those cases. In contrast, coercive and controlling behaviours were the most common domestic violence behaviours used by the perpetrators.

The revelation is included in a submission by NSW State Coroner Teresa O’Sullivan, the convener of the Domestic Violence Death Review Team, to the inquiry. The team has previously found that 111 of 112 domestic ­violence homicides it reviewed were preceded by the abuser behaving in a coercive and controlling manner towards the victim.

Ms O’Sullivan said that a criminal offence could provide a new response for victims of domestic abuse who did not experience physical violence, but care was needed to ensure there were no unintended consequences for victims or groups vulnerable to “over-policing”, including Indigenous people.

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk this week ­appointed retired appeal judge Margaret McMurdo to head a taskforce charged with recommending how to outlaw coercive control in her state.

The move comes after the murder of Hannah Clarke and her three children a year ago by her estranged partner, after he waged a campaign of control against her.

The NSW Law Society said there was a gap in the current law and that the best way to address it was via a specific criminal ­offence that was “very tightly prescribed” to avoid “criminalising dynamics and behaviour within couples and families that do not warrant moral, let alone criminal, sanction”.

“There is a risk of criminalising people with alcohol, drug and mental health issues — the vulnerable and disadvantaged who may not fit into the norms of ­relationships held by others,” its submission says.

The NSW Public Defenders has opposed new laws to ban ­coercive control, arguing that it would be premature without more research to determine whether the laws would effectively deter and punish perpetrators, without risking criminalising non-criminal behaviour.

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