An inquiry into the operation of s.99 of the Justices Act

Criminology Research Council grant ; (14/83)

The project aimed to evaluate a 1982 amendment to s.99 of the justices Act as a form of legal protection for victims of domestic violence. As an initiative of the Women's Adviser to the South Australian Premier, the study was particularly concerned with the ability of the law to deter violent behaviour directed at women. Section 99 functions as a legal remedy for domestic violence by giving any person the right to apply to a court for an order instructing a named person to refrain from specific forms of offensive conduct. Breach of that 'restraining' order by the person named therein may result in their arrest and imprisonment.

The research design comprised a series of questionnaires and interviews about the value of s.99 as a deterrent to the violent spouse. Opinions were sought from two populations: persons employed in various capacities to advise about, and to enforce the legislation as well as applicants for restraining orders. The first group included welfare workers, legal practitioners, and police officers. The sample of users of s.99 was drawn from women's shelters throughout the State and from the clientele of the Crisis Care Unit (South Australia's mobile crisis counselling service).

Completed questionnaires produced a clear set of findings which formed the basis of recommendations about the law and its operation for the Attorney-General and the South Australian Police Commissioner. Restraining orders were found to serve a limited purpose: they effectively deter persons who are normally law-abiding from engaging in further acts of violence. However, the persistent offender who has developed cynical attitudes towards the law appears to regard restraining orders with contempt.

While survey respondents generally agreed that there is a limit to what the law can do with the intractable offender, it was also observed that the operation of the law would be improved significantly by changes to the attitude and performance of the police. Accordingly, the key recommendations of the report concerned the formation of a Specialist Police Domestic Violence Unit which would upgrade police training and devise and implement a coordinated statewide police policy on domestic violence.