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Our Courts and “The System” - Who will be held accountable for Australia's recent family tragedies?


The Australian Courts and their procedures and practices are far from perfect.  They require reviewing, updating and amending.  However, can the Courts and the “system” be held entirely accountable for the recent domestic violence tragedies we have seen in the media?  Should the perpetrators take any responsibility?

In 2018, Peter Miles murdered his four grandchildren, his wife Cynda and his daughter Katrina, before turning the gun on himself. Katrina was involved in Family Law proceedings in relation to children’s issues and Peter was funding her ongoing legal costs.

At the time, the media released articles to suggest that Peter murdered his family because of the ongoing stress of Family Law proceedings, which had lasted for over two years.  Aaron Cockman, the father of the children, has blamed the Family Law system and its failings for his children’s deaths.

Recently, on 19 February 2020, Rowan Baxter killed his three children and his wife, Hannah, before killing himself. Rowan Baxter and Hannah had recently separated and Hannah had obtained a Domestic Violence Order (“DVO”) protecting her and the children from Rowan. While many Australians view this as a tragic incident of domestic violence, there are those who have blamed the Family Court and “the system that favours Mothers over Fathers.”

The media has published articles which reflect the idea that, because Rowan could not see his children, he was “forced” to take matters in to his own hands and commit violence against his family. Firstly, the fact is that the Family Court had no involvement and no Family Court Orders were in place. Secondly, taking into account Rowan’s behaviour towards his family, Hannah protecting her children with a DVO was more than reasonable. Lastly, it is clearly not only the system which failed this family - it was also Rowan Baxter.

Many have questioned how this incident occurred when Hannah had a DVO in place. Was there more that could have been done to protect Hannah and her children?

In November 2019, the Government acknowledged and took action concerning the overwhelming number of incidents concerning family violence in Australia and Western Australia. The McGowan Labor Government in Western Australia introduced a family violence law reform package. The reform aims to amend nine separate pieces of legislation across six separate ministerial portfolios.

The reform package includes:

  1. two new offences under the Criminal Code - non-fatal strangulation and persistent family violence;
  2. new aggravated penalties for offences which commonly occur in circumstances of family violence;
  3. introduction of serial family violence offender declarations;
  4. expanded access to electronic monitoring for offenders;
  5. introduction of jury directions to counter stereotypes, myths and misconceptions about family and domestic violence;
  6. making it easier for evidence of family and domestic violence to be introduced in criminal trials;
  7. requirement for police to record every family violence incident; and
  8. a range of amendments to the Restraining Orders Act 1997 and Bail Act 1982 to improve victim safety and make it easier for victims to obtain protection from violence.

The Queensland Government has also implemented a 10 year reform program to deal with family domestic violence.

Yes, the system is far from perfect and changes are being made.  However, our public outlook on domestic violence also needs to change. By placing the blame entirely on the Courts and the “system”, we remove the responsibility from the perpetrators of domestic violence.

If you need help in relation to domestic violence issues or parenting issues and are not sure what to do, please speak to one of our lawyers at Butlers who have extensive experience in this area.

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Monday, 16 May 2022