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Assault cases more likely to end with jail term if related to domestic violence: report

Five years after sentencing reforms were introduced in Queensland, there are signs the system is finally responding to community concerns.

May 31, 2021, updated May 31, 2021
Domestic violence murder victim Hannah Clarke with her son, Trey.

Domestic violence murder victim Hannah Clarke with her son, Trey.

The Queensland Sentencing Advisory Council compared outcomes for cases involving common assault or assault occasioning bodily harm, and whether they related to domestic violence, between mid-2016 and mid-2019.

There are positive signs that if, and when, domestic violence cases make it to court, they are dealt with more seriously.

Council chair John Robertson, a former judge, said the research found domestic violence offences – which comprised 4,611 of the 15,800 adult cases considered – were more likely to result in jail.

“Custodial penalties were more commonly imposed for domestic violence offences than for non-domestic violence offences, although there was some variation in the types of custodial orders given for different offence types and at different court levels,” Robertson said.

For example, a charge of common assault occasioning bodily harm dealt with in the Magistrates Court was more likely to result in a custodial sentence when there was domestic violence (68.3 per cent) than when there was not (43.6 per cent). Of those jailed for that offence, domestic violence came with an average custodial sentence of one year, compared to 0.8 years when there was no domestic violence element.

“The most important thing to take away from this research paper is Queensland courts are treating domestic violence offences as being more serious for sentencing purposes than offences not occurring in a domestic violence context,” Robertson said.

“We are seeing a greater use of custodial penalties and longer custodial sentences being imposed on offenders who commit common assault or assault occasioning bodily harm in a domestic violence setting.”

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Since 2016, Queensland courts must treat a domestic violence offence as an aggravating factor for the purposes of sentencing, unless there are exceptional circumstances. The year before, changes were made to better identify domestic violence offences in the system.

The Queensland Women’s Safety and Justice Taskforce has released its first discussion paper seeking input on the best wait to legislate against coercive control as a form of domestic and family violence.

As part of the consultation, the taskforce has asked for feedback on how sentencing courts are taking coercive control into account as both an aggravating factor or a mitigating factor.

However, the taskforce has yet to release any proposals for reforming how women are treated by, and in, the criminal justice system.

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