Protection orders 'do keep women, children safe'

SASHA BORISSENKO
Last updated 13:00 28/01/2014

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"We are kidding ourselves" to think someone who flagrantly disregards the law will adhere to a protection order, a Nelson Men's Health spokesman says.

Questions have been raised regarding the effectiveness of protection orders after 51-year-old Edward Livingstone breached a protection order on two occasions before killing his 9-year-old son Bradley and 6-year-old daughter Ellen while they slept in their Dunedin home on January 15.

Men's Health manager Phillip Chapman said in the case of a protection order against someone who had a complete disregard for the law or had mental health issues, a piece of paper could not protect anybody.

"We are kidding ourselves in situations like the horrific Dunedin shootings. But this was a very isolated case.

"The question we should be asking instead is, how did this man slip through the system?"

He feared that in these sorts of cases society and the media tended to demonise men in general and forgot about all the good and loving men in the country, he said.

"We need a more individualised system that asks what programme might work for that man rather than let's put that man in the programme."

The current stopping violence system had not been reviewed for a number of years and its "one size fits all" nature often failed to work, he said.

Men's Health was trying to change this problem and was producing a report that would outline exactly what the situation was and how it could be improved, he said.

A Ministry of Justice spokesman said there were 87 protection orders issued in 2012-2013 in Nelson, 17 more than the previous year. Nationally nearly 3000 were granted.

In Nelson, 55 people were convicted for breaching protection orders in 2012-2013, five more than the previous year. Nationally 1907 were convicted.

A protection order lasted indefinitely unless an application was made to have it cancelled.

That meant the number of protection orders in place at any one time was significantly higher than the annual number of orders granted.

While the number of breaches each year appeared disproportionately high in comparison to the number of orders granted that year, the two figures were not comparable.

A breach was defined as breaking any of the conditions of the order. This could involve an unwanted telephone call, threats, harassment, abuse and damage to property, for example.

Breaches were taken very seriously by government agencies and the courts and the high number of convictions reflected this, he said.

As part of reforms to the family justice system, the maximum penalty for breaching a protection order was increased in September 2013 from two to three years' imprisonment.

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The justice sector was continuing to work on ways of reducing violent crime.

Nelson Women's Refuge Maori women's advocate Lisa, who declined to reveal her last name due to the nature of her work, said she was concerned to see comments in the media arising out of the Dunedin shootings that said protection orders were not working.

It was an horrific case that was very unusual and did not reflect the general population let alone those subject to the protection order process, she said.

"There are always glitches in the system but we do not want women to think that because of this one nightmare of a situation protection orders do not work and that there is no point in getting one.

"In my experience there have been many women and children who are currently living safely protected thanks to protection orders."

Nelson lawyer Michelle Duggan said protection orders were effective as they put a line in the sand around the issue of contact and behaviour.

There was no issue surrounding the effectiveness of protection orders but the individuals who failed to adhere to them, Ms Duggan said.

"There are some people who will continue to act violently and some people who become enraged by the making of an order.

"This is something I always discuss with my clients as part of the advice-discussion prior to making an application [for a protection order]."

PUTTING AN ORDER IN PLACE

Protection orders can be issued in two ways.

An application can be made through the Family Court, or can be granted in the criminal court following a conviction for domestic violence offences or as the result of breaching a police safety order.

Most protection orders are made by judges but final protection orders can also be issued by registrars if a temporary protection order previously exists.

Nelson lawyer Michelle Duggan said there were three legal requirements that needed to be established before a protection order could be made.

In the case of a Family Court application, a person seeking a protection order had to prove there was a domestic relationship, violence was involved and that an order was "necessary".

If the requirements were established then applications were typically granted.

Among many factors that had to be taken into account were the rate of violence and the probability of it occurring again, she said.

Legal aid was readily available and there were many lawyers who were available at short notice to prepare the necessary documents.

If a person did not qualify for legal aid, the cost varied from lawyer to lawyer, she said.

If someone had been the victim of physical violence recently and police were involved, then an application would be straightforward, fast and therefore inexpensive. In contrast, if it was harder to establish psychological violence over a long period of time where the acts of violence were individually minor but were viewed as a whole to create a climate of fear, they would take longer to prepare and be more expensive.

- The Nelson Mail

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