Page 216 - Week 01 - Thursday, 10 February 2022

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While law reform is just one component of the coordinated response that is needed to help to prevent violence and better protect victims, it is a critical part of that approach. The reforms made by this bill will help to build a stronger legal framework to make our community safer.

The bill amends ACT laws to: create an aggravated offence scheme for offences involving family violence; provide an express legislative basis for the court to grant an adjournment for the preparation of a victim impact statement in sentence proceedings for serious offences; limit cross-examination on the contents of victim impact statements; introduce protections for counselling communications in family violence offence proceedings; clarify that the definition of family violence includes technology-facilitated abuse; change the name of the offence of “sexual relationship with child or young person under special care” to “persistent sexual abuse of child or young person under special care”; update the schedule of disqualifying offences under the Working with Vulnerable People (Background Checking) Act to include appropriate new aggravated family violence offences; and create a legislative requirement to review the Family Violence Act 2016 three years after the commencement of this bill.

The ACT government is committed to ensuring strong protection for all victims, and particularly those of domestic and family violence. The bill helps to ensure that perpetrators of domestic and family violence are held accountable for their behaviour. These reforms also improve protections for victims generally, by removing barriers to their engagement with the criminal justice system and with professional supports. The bill balances the human rights of a person affected by changes in the law and the public interest in protecting an individual’s right to safety within their home and in the community.

As I flagged, the bill introduces a new aggravated offence scheme that applies to select offences in the Crimes Act. This is the second tranche of legislation that I flagged would be coming forward last year, when I introduced legislation to ensure that family violence would be a consideration during sentencing. I am pleased to report that the government’s detailed work and consideration on the aggravated sentencing regime is now complete and ready to be progressed in legislation.

An offence will be considered aggravated where it involves family violence. “Family violence” has the same broad definition as in the Family Violence Act, and includes behaviour such as abuse or threats in relation to a family member. These amendments recognise the wide-ranging and serious nature of family violence offending by introducing higher maximum penalties for these aggravated offences. These amendments are directed at addressing the issue flagged by the ACT Court of Appeal in The Crown and UG that, at the time, the ACT did not have a legislative basis for special sentencing treatment of family violence offences. This second tranche of amendments provides that basis.

The increased maximum penalties for these offences recognise the extreme seriousness of these offences. Historically, family violence has been regarded as a civil concern between private parties, but recognising the seriousness of family

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