State government proposes changes to family violence legal proceedings

Proposed reforms to legal proceedings associated with cases of family violence have been welcomed by two of the state’s most prominent legal groups, despite concerns they could limit the powers of the judiciary. 

The state government has unveiled a raft of sentencing reforms that include the addition of a ‘separate express sentence’ of up to two years jail for offenders who were found guilty of assaulting a woman who was pregnant. 

The changes would also allow victims to track offenders as they move through the legal system and have family violence offences listed on an offender's criminal record. 

Law Society of Tasmania president Rohan Foon expressed concern over an amendment to the the Evidence (Children and Special Witnesses) Act that would require victims of family violence to be automatically declared ‘special witnesses’.

He said making the action mandatory would tread on the toes of the judiciary. 

“The court already has the ability to allow alleged victims to be declared special witnesses and it’s inappropriate to make it mandatory of the court to declare them as special witnesses,” Mr Foon said. 

“It will be a case now of the committee going through each of the proposed amendments so we can reach a position on them all.” 

Women’s Legal Service chief executive Susan Fahey said changes to the Evidence Act would bring Tasmanian legislation in line with other states.

She said more detail would be needed to ensure the changes strike the right balance. 

“The minute you take the court’s discretion away you limit the powers of the system,” Ms Fahey said. 

“We welcome the discussion but it’s important to strike the right balance.” 

Opposition justice spokeswoman Lara Giddings said Labor was strongly supportive of any step towards eradicating family violence in the community.

The government also called for public comment on a consultation paper exploring options for legal responses to family violence.