As from 1 July 2010, amendments to the Domestic Violence Act 1995 now enable the Police to issue on-the spot ‘Police Safety Orders’ (‘PSO’).
Under this new regime, a qualified constable may issue a PSO in a situation where the parties are in a domestic relationship, and where the Police have reasonable grounds to believe that family violence has occurred or may occur but there is insufficient evidence to make an arrest.
In issuing a PSO the constable must consider whether domestic violence is or has been taking place, the hardship the PSO may cause to any party and any other matters the constable considers relevant. The PSO may last for up to 5 days and provides the victim with immediate protection. It is hoped that the order will provide a way of filling the gap between an incident occurring and the issuing of a Temporary Protection Order.
An important element of the PSO is that it does not require the consent of the victim. As a result victims who are too scared or intimidated to act will nevertheless be afforded the necessary interim protection to enable them to take further steps to secure their ongoing safety. The person bound by the PSO order must:
- vacate the premises for up to 5 days.
- surrender all firearms and their firearm licence for the period of the PSO
- not threaten, assault, intimidate or harass the protected person or encourage anyone else to do so, and
- not contact the protected person.
The PSO also protects any children that live with the protected person and suspends any parenting orders or access or care agreements that benefit the person bound by the order. The conditions under a PSO are similar to those under a court ordered Protection Order. However, unlike a Protection Order, the protected person under a PSO cannot consent to residing with the person bound by the PSO.
In the event that the PSO is breached, the bound person can be taken into custody and must appear before the Court. The Court may then:
- direct the Police to issue a further PSO.
- release the bound person without further order, or
- issue a Temporary Protection Order if the protected person does not object.
Concerns have been raised that in some circumstances the consequences for the bound person following the making of the order may be harsh. These orders, however, have the potential to assist victims to escape domestic violence, especially as the victim’s consent is not needed.