Momentous task begins

03:52, Jun 18 2014

The first part of the privately funded Glenn Inquiry into child abuse and family violence distils the testimony of 500 survivors, frontline workers and offenders and paints a grim picture of violence breeding violence. The inquiry's chief panellist, Marama Davidson, acknowledges that the changes needed to break this cycle will take time but she wants to get cracking.

A "blueprint for change" will be published later this year. But this first report gives a taste of what it is likely to recommend. A crucial plea is for "a fresh approach that moves beyond labels, theories and gendered approaches", recognising that child abuse frequently goes hand- in-hand with domestic violence. This would require a long-term national social, community and economic strategy, facilitated by government but placing families at the centre. Zero tolerance to child abuse and domestic violence would become everyone's concern.

Achieving the necessary attitudinal and cultural change would be formidable. Dealing with poor training, inadequate co-ordination and so on in the relevant institutions and agencies looks more feasible, although the politicians would have to be persuaded to reach a consensus.

The courts are one point of focus. The report refers to an "alarming dysfunction" in them, quoting women who tell of struggling with the court process and having to "prove" their plight. Some offenders were thought to be more believable and "played the system".

Bill Wilson, the former Supreme Court judge who heads the Glenn Inquiry, suggests the electronic tagging of men on domestic violence protection orders so an alarm sounds if they approach the family home. Protection orders do nothing to stop some offenders from assaulting - sometimes killing - their partners. Electronic tagging may be a useful measure, at least in some cases.

Much more troubling, the inquiry suggests shifting the burden of proof in "domestic" cases. Alleged perpetrators would be considered guilty unless they can prove their innocence.

This asks us to pay an egregiously high price by overturning a fundamental principle of the law - that we are all innocent until proven guilty. Requiring accused people to prove their innocence is to be rejected.