: Personal Safety Intervention Orders

Personal Safety Intervention Orders

Alexandra Lane
Victoria

The Personal Safety Intervention Orders Act 2010 (Vic) came into operation on 5 September 2011 and seeks to conform to its regime counterpart, the Family Violence Protection Act 2008. The distinction between the two rests with the personal safety Act focussing on the antisocial behaviours of non-family members. The new Act was introduced to rectify the problems arising from its predecessor, the now repealed Stalking Intervention Orders Act 2008. On application, a broader spectrum of behaviours were liable to have actions brought against them than was originally intended. Thus under the earlier scheme, minor disputes escalated rapidly and saturated the judiciary. Through reforming the legislation governing this area, the Victorian Parliament intends to distinguish between minor disputes and those requiring court facilitated resolutions, by emphasising the beneficial nature of informal mediation programs. Through these, trifling claims may be dealt with swiftly in arenas that facilitate communication and ideally provide for mutually acceptable resolutions. In contrast, the Act will provide heightened protection for those at risk of harm. This will be achieved via the provision of Personal Safety Intervention Orders and the codification of a breach of such an order as an offence. Therefore the introduction of the Act will provide fair, just and equitable outcomes for those requiring assistance while prompting individuals to resolve their own disputes prior to seeking formalised assistance.

The Personal Safety Intervention Orders Act has introduced wide ranging changes including the employment of the term ‘prohibited behaviours’ to embody what the regime seeks to protect against. The broad ambit of this term includes sexual assault, harassment, property damage or interference, serious threats and stalking. Thus courts will grant interim or final Intervention Orders where they are satisfied on the balance of probabilities that a respondent has committed such prohibited behaviours and there is a high likelihood such antisocial behaviour will continue. Further reforms include provisions against vexatious litigants, changes to procedural and evidential rules as well as significant improvements when children are involved.

Issues may arise with the implementation of mediation as a key tool is the resolution of disputes. Touted as being flexible, individualised and facilitated by trained professionals the program, upon application, may see power imbalances, inconsistent and inappropriate referrals spoiling any potential success. Furthermore in the event of an Intervention Order being granted, organisational practices and support networks may need to be developed in order to allow for their successful application (eg in schools or workplaces). Similar to its predecessor, the new Act may encounter problems with the ability of its terms to be broadly defined. It was because of the extensive situations to which the term ‘stalking’ could be applied which rendered the previous Act ineffective. Thus limitations will need to be consistently applied in assuring the calibre of cases which actually proceed to court are warranted.

The introduction of the Personal Safety Intervention Orders Act appears to be a largely positive reform. Ideally this will promote community cohesiveness, prevent the escalation of minor localised issues whilst also providing protection for those at risk of serious injury or harm. The effectiveness and potential success of such reforms will only be observed over time. However if they parallel their sister Act we may presume this will be largely a successful program.

ALEXANDRA LANE is a law student at Monash University.

(2011) 36(4) AltLJ 286
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