Monash University research reveals limits in how judges hold domestic violence perpetrators to account

Monash University

Australian judicial officers hold mixed views on the effectiveness of perpetrator interventions in domestic and family violence (DFV) matters, a Monash University study has revealed.

Released today, the three-year national study funded by Australia’s National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety (ANROWS) captured responses from interviews conducted with 60 judicial officers from across all Australian state and territory jurisdictions.

Outlined in the report, The views of Australian judicial officers on domestic and family violence perpetrator interventions, the research demonstrates the need to develop clear guidance and a central information register to support judicial officers in using perpetrator intervention programs.

Such programs are service and system responses to perpetrators of domestic and family violence that aim to change perpetrator attitudes and / or behaviours and prevent further incidents.

Judicial officers – justices, judges and magistrates – play an important role in perpetrator interventions by sentencing them, making family violence intervention orders and referring perpetrators to behaviour change programs.

Monash University researchers found despite this central role, there was little evidence on the ways judicial officers viewed or understood interventions and how they were used.

ANROWS CEO Heather Nancarrow said the focus of Monash’s research was to explore the areas where judicial officers feel uncertain about how to best utilise perpetrator intervention programs.

“Those who work in and with our courts have a crucial role to play in building systems that hold perpetrators of DFV to account for their actions,” she said. “When this is better understood, courts will be able to implement more consistent sentencing and improve other outcomes for perpetrators.”

The study was led by Dr Kate Fitz-Gibbon with Professor JaneMaree Maher and a team of researchers from the Monash Gender and Family Violence Prevention Centre.

Dr Fitz-Gibbon said the judicial role in sentencing was of critical importance.

“In recent years we have seen a pivot towards the perpetrator – to ensuring perpetrators are kept ‘in view’ and held to account,” she said.

“We cannot achieve this without effective judicial intervention in those cases that do end up before our courts. Currently Australian judicial officers lack the information and systems needed to effectively utilise perpetrator interventions in the sentencing of domestic and family violence matters.”

The study revealed the effective use of perpetrator interventions in judicial officer decision making is hampered by:

  • Limited judicial access to information about which (if any) perpetrator interventions have been previously used with a perpetrator

  • A lack of knowledge among judicial officers about perpetrator program referral options, in relation to both the availability and nature of programs available

  • Uncertainty over the role of the judicial officers in holding perpetrators to account.

The report made three recommendations for improving judicial practice moving forward.

Dr Fitz-Gibbon said the first step was developing guidance on seeking and making use of a perpetrator’s history of interventions including family violence intervention orders, prior sentences and program attendance.

“All Australian states and territories should look to introduce a central register of perpetrator intervention programs and referral options,” she said. “Information is key. This register would ensure that the information to apply a risk-appropriate intervention is available as and when needed.”

Monash researchers also recommended courts and judicial educational bodies consider exploring and developing guidance on the role of judicial officers in creating system accountability regarding perpetrators of DFV.

Clarity on the parameters of this role will allow for the development of more consistent sentencing and other outcomes for DFV perpetrators across jurisdictions, they said.

“This study sets out what is needed to ensure judges can effectively and consistently utilise perpetrator interventions in the sentencing of domestic and family violence offences,” Dr Fitz-Gibbon added.

The research aligns with the Council of Australian Governments’ National Violence against Women and their Children 2010-2022 National Plan, with a key outcome being perpetrators stopping their violence and being held to account for their actions.

/Public Release.