NSW to Prohibit Direct Cross-Examination of Domestic Violence Victims by their Accused

Women’s Safety NSW are delighted that the NSW Legislative Council have passed an amendment to the Stronger Communities Legislation Amendment (Domestic Violence) Bill 2020 to prohibit domestic violence defendants from directly cross-examining their victims in court.

The amendment was moved by the NSW Government after negotiations between the offices of the Attorney General and Minister for the Prevention of Domestic Violence, Mark Speakman SC MP and the NSW Greens Spokesperson for the Prevention of Domestic Violence, Abigail Boyd MLC, and in the wake of Women’s Safety NSW’s release of two position papers over the weekend on police and court responses to domestic and family violence, as appeared in the Saturday Paper.

Women’s Safety NSW had supported the reforms in the Bill to afford domestic violence complainants the prima facie right to give evidence in closed court proceedings and/or via audio-visual link, but had been calling for an additional amendment to include the banning of the outdated and damaging practice of domestic violence defendants directly cross-examining their victims in court.

“This much needed reform is something that Women’s Safety NSW has long campaigned for. We are delighted that victim-survivors can finally rest assured that they will not have to face their abusers under cross-examination”, says Hayley Foster, Chief Executive Officer of Women’s Safety NSW.

In Women’s Safety NSW’s position paper on this issue, which canvassed the views and experiences of Women’s Domestic Violence Court Advocacy Services (WDVCASs) across NSW and 50 victim-survivors, over half of victims-survivors reported that the fear of being cross-examined by their abuser was a factor that made them reconsider attending court.

“Being questioned in a public forum about deeply personal issues and experiences of domestic abuse is, in itself, an extremely disturbing experience for many victim- survivors”, explained Ms Foster. “But to be interrogated by the very person who committed the abuse is beyond disturbing; it is horrific.”

Women’s Safety NSW also noted the importance of these reforms for ensuring the effective administration of justice through an improvement in the quality of witness testimony.

“The fear experienced by victim-survivors of being directly cross-examined by their abuser prevents them from being able to effectively answer questions during cross-examination”, says Foster. “This can jeopardise their case and the likelihood of an apprehended domestic violence order being put in place for their protection, or charges successfully brought against their abuser.”

The position paper published by Women’s Safety NSW detailed a number of additional reform priorities to ensure safer courts for victim-survivors of domestic and family violence, which have not yet been included in the NSW Government’s reform package. These include:

  • The specialisation of magistrates hearing domestic and family violence matters
  • Increased funding for WDVCASs to support domestic violence victim-survivors through their hearings
  • Investment in safe rooms, audio-visual facilities and the streamlining and prioritisation of domestic violence matters in all local courts.

“This amendment, secured last night by Greens NSW MP Abigail Boyd, will have a profound impact in improving the safety of victim-survivors giving evidence in domestic violence matters, but there is more work to do”, says Ms Foster.

The Bill is expected to be passed by the Legislative Assembly from Tuesday next week.

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