We are now living in a time where it has become acceptable and encouraged to speak out about domestic and family violence, a type of abuse that in most circumstances occurs behind closed doors. There have already been significant reforms, both legislative and non-legislative, to protect those at risk of domestic and family violence. For example, in 2012, the Family Law Act was amended to change the definition of “family violence” to include acts of abuse outside traditional physical violence. Presently, there is a Bill being proposed in Parliament to prohibit personal cross-examination in family law matters where there is an allegation of domestic and family violence between the parties, and certain circumstances have been satisfied.
Although these amendments provide a greater level of protection to victims of domestic and family violence after the fact, ideally, we are looking at avenues to better protect those at risk, and reduce domestic and family violence occurring in the first place.
First introduced in the United Kingdom as “Clare’s Law” is a system known as a Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme (DVDS) that provides individuals the right to seek information from Police as to whether a new partner has been a perpetrator of domestic and family violence in the past. It is suggested that the DVDS provides individuals at risk with the ability to make informed choices about whether they continue a relationship that, based upon their partner’s former behaviour, may lead to domestic and family violence.
The DVDS has already transitioned to Australia in New South Wales, and was rejected in Queensland in late 2017 following recommendations from the Queensland Law Reform Commission that it not go ahead. There is much debate around the potential implications that such disclosure may have, including for example:
- A further risk to the individual who made the enquiry if the perpetrator becomes aware; and
- Adverse effects on rehabilitation of the perpetrator.
Victoria is next to consider the implementation of the DVDS, being pressed by the Victorian Coalition in their present campaign. With very little factual data to support the success of the DVDS, time will tell as to whether the DVDS will be a positive “prevention is better than a cure” approach to reducing domestic and family violence.