Domestic Violence Defendants Should No Longer Make Early Bail Due to COVID-19

The Chief Magistrate of the Local Court of NSW has issued another memorandum announcing preliminary arrangements for the return to normal sitting arrangements. (To be added to the website shortly)

The arrangements will see a resumption of the ‘sentencing of offenders where the issue of full-time custody is a real prospect’ and of ‘defended hearings in the criminal and special jurisdiction (which includes domestic and personal violence matters) of the Court’.

One of the outcomes of this change is that domestic violence defendants who are initially bail refused should no longer make bail early due to COVID-19.

Women’s Safety NSW note this change will bring some relief to victims being placed at additional risk during COVID-19, however victim safety remains a serious concern as they are still not being advised when defendants make bail.

“We’ve been seriously concerned that victims of domestic violence in NSW have been placed at even greater risk during this pandemic due to defendants being granted early bail and victims not even being given fair warning of this when it happens”, says Hayley Foster, chief executive officer of Women’s Safety NSW.

“We’ve had cases where he’s a serial domestic violence offender with no respect for apprehended violence orders and bail conditions, and he’s being let out just up the road from the victim’s house without any notice whatsoever,” says Foster. “Victim-survivors are terrified and have said they feel like ‘sitting ducks’ being made to stay at home where the abuser can find them. Some women have had to leave their home and move into temporary accommodation because they are genuinely in fear for their safety and the safety of their children”…

Following the handing down of the initial memorandum on listing arrangements during the COVID-19 pandemic by the Chief Magistrate on 24 March 2020, which opened the door for early release of domestic violence defendants in custody, Women’s Safety NSW have been consistently raising this issue with government stakeholders to have the matter resolved in the interests of victim safety.

…Women’s Safety NSW were advised that a protocol would be put in place…

However, soon after this announcement was made, Women’s Safety NSW were advised that the protocol was not practicable…

Women’s Safety NSW have since met with the Chief Magistrate of the Local Court and written to the Attorney General and Minister for the Prevention of Domestic Violence Mark Speakman and Police Commissioner Mick Fuller to express ongoing concerns in relation to victim safety due to the early release of domestic violence defendants during the COVID-19 pandemic and without a systematic process in place to alert and safety plan with victims.

“We wanted a presumption against bail where violent offenders are shown to pose an ongoing risk to victim safety during COVID-19 as we are seeing too many cases where bail is being granted notwithstanding the requirement to consider victim risk in the existing Bail Act 2013 (NSW)” says Foster.

According to Women’s Safety NSW, this presumption is now no longer as urgent, as domestic violence matters, including sentencing are set to resume.

However, the second change is no less relevant, and must still be urgently addressed as a matter of victim safety.

“We are also calling for a mandatory requirement for victims and their court advocates to be informed when a domestic violence defendant applies for bail, and that information on current victim risk be shared with the police prosecutor, and finally that bail outcomes and conditions are also communicated systematically so that we can safety plan with victims”, says Foster. “It’s hard enough to plan with victims around their safety and the safety of their children when their abuser is on the loose, but when we don’t even know where he is, it’s practically impossible.”

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