ACT Bill to Improve Family Violence Laws

Thursday 15 July 2021 @ 9.47 a.m. | Crime | Torts, Damages & Civil Liability

The Crimes Legislation Amendment Bill 2021 (ACT) ("the Bill") was introduced into the ACT Legislative Assembly on 24 June 2021 by Attorney General Shane Rattenbury  ("the AG").  The Explanatory Statement stated that the policy objective of this Bill is to "improve the clarity and effectiveness of criminal justice legislation".

In his 24 June 2021 Media Release, the AG stated that:

"ACT courts will be required to give specific consideration when sentencing a person convicted of a crime in a family violence context under proposed new legislation being tabled today [24 June 2021] in the ACT Legislative Assembly, the first phase of proposed family violence law reform."

Overview: Key Reforms

As summarised in the Explanatory Statement, the Bill proposes amendments to:

  • "the Crimes (Child Sex Offenders) Act 2005 (ACT) to facilitate the registration of offenders convicted of possession of child-like sex dolls;
  •  the Crimes (Sentencing) Act 2005 (ACT) to:
    • ensure that family violence is a matter which the courts must consider appropriately in the sentencing process; and
    • rectify an anomaly which prevents appeal courts from amending a non-parole period where the sentence for one or more offences is set aside or amended on appeal;
  • the Crimes (Surveillance Devices) Act 2010 (ACT) and the Listening Devices Act 1992 (ACT) to explicitly state the circumstances in which body-worn cameras ("BWCs") may or must be used by police officers which will improve safety and accountability for the public and police, especially in private settings such as family violence incidents.
  • the Inspector of Correctional Services Act 2017 (ACT) to change the review period for the examination and review of correctional centres and places of detention from at least once every two years to at least once every three years; and
  • the Terrorism (Extraordinary Temporary Powers) Act 2006 (ACT) to extend the operation of the Act for 12 months."

The amendments proposed by the Bill were identified and developed in consultation with justice stakeholders; including the Director of Public Prosecutions, various Courts and Tribunals, the police, the State's Human Rights Commission and the Inspector of Correctional Services.

Amendments Ensure Courts Have Appropriate Power

The AG commented in his Media Release that:

“the community rightly expects courts to hold perpetrators of family violence to account in sentencing. I want to ensure courts have the appropriate tools to sentence offenders, prevent family violence, and ultimately protect the community.”

The Bill proposes amendments that would require the court to consider certain factors when sentencing, including:

  • whether the offence occurred within the home;
  • whether a child was present when the offence occurred;
  • if it was a serious family violence offence; or
  • whether the offender has a history of convictions for serious family violence offences.

The AG further noted in his Media Release that these reforms were a response to an issue raised by the ACT Court of Appeal in R v UG [2020] ACTCA 8, which found that:

" absent any statutory provision ... there is no place for a separate sentencing regime that applies to offenders who commit family violence offences”.

Next Phase of Reform

The AG commented in his Media Release that the Bill represented the first phase of reform. The second phase of the reforms is proposed to include the possible addition of aggravated offences.

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Crimes Legislation Amendment Bill 2021 (ACT) and explanatory materials available from TimeBase's LawOne Service.

Media Release: New laws to strengthen sentencing of family violence offenders (Shane Rattenbury MLA, ACT Government, 24 June 2021)

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