The Best Practice Principles are applicable in all cases involving family violence or child abuse (or the risk of either) in proceedings before courts exercising jurisdiction under the Family Law Act 1975 (Cmth), and provide useful background information for decision makers, legal practitioners and individuals involved in these cases including an explanation of the definition of ‘family violence’ and ‘abuse’ under the Family Law Act and the different types of violence and abuse.
The Best Practice Principles recognise:
Section C deals with the interim hearing stage and introduces the 'PPP' screening tool as a useful mechanism in the assessment of risk. This screening tool analyses risk by reference to three factors: the potency (of violence), pattern (of violence and coercive control) and primary perpetrator indicators (PPP). The screening tool is not a predictive device but does give a useful framework of factors to look for when considering the risk of family violence.
This resource identifies lethality/high-risk factors, including (pp 12-15):
It also identifies other risk factors, including (pp 15-16):
This resource outlines the 9 key principles for assessing risk (pp 5-11):
This checklist was implemented across all police services in the UK from March 2009. It aims to turn a reactive response to domestic violence, ‘it’s just a domestic,’ into a proactive ‘you must ask’ questions approach. It provides police services and other partner agencies with a common checklist for identifying, assessing and managing risk.
Who is the DASH for ?
‘The DASH is for all professionals working with victims of domestic abuse, stalking and harassment and honour based violence’.
This US-based resource is designed for use by judicial officers in proceedings involving domestic violence. The checklist is not exhaustive but lists factors most commonly present when there is a risk of serious harm or death. These factors include the perpetrator owning a gun, the perpetrator using drugs, and the physical violence increasing in severity or frequency over the past year.
Includes information on signs and symptoms and impact of strangulation, and online training resources. A single-page downloadable fact sheet emphasises:
The screening tool used by the Australian Federal Police (ACT Policing) is not publicly available.
This deals specifically with risk factors affecting young people and children. These include (p9): “current or past ADVO or family law contact orders due to violence; the adult victim is pregnant; conflict over visitation/custody issues; a child/young person in the home is not a biological child of the perpetrator; recent or imminent divorce or separation; stalking, sexual assault of a parent/carer, or extremely controlling behaviour by the perpetrator; perpetrator has mental health issues that have resulted in violent or aggressive behaviour in the past; perpetrator frequently uses alcohol or drugs; perpetrator or victim has a history of exposure to domestic violence; victim has been in prior relationships where domestic violence occurred; recent or prolonged unemployment or financial issues causing stress or family friction; weapons in the home; cruel treatment of animals/family pets by the perpetrator.”
Northern Territory Police, Family Safety Framework. See the ‘Form’ and ‘Practice Manual’.
The following is a summary of the key facts relating to the domestic violence related death of Ms Blackmore and the key findings of Northern Coroner, Nerida Wilson. There are other matters raised in the Coroner’s findings relating to police responses that are not covered in this summary.
Ms Blackmore migrated to Australia from the Philippines in 1991; English was not her first language. After separating from her husband (with whom she had three sons) in 2014, she moved from Brisbane to Middlemount in central Queensland to continue a relationship with Mr Dickson that had commenced prior to the separation from her husband. Ms Blackmore was concerned that her family would not approve of her living with a man she was not married to, so she was secretive about her relationship with Mr Dickson, her living arrangements and whereabouts. Ms Blackmore’s reluctance to tell her family about the new relationship was a source of consternation for Mr Dickson and was allegedly the trigger for two separate (although causally connected) episodes of domestic violence in the 48 hours prior to her death.
Ms Blackmore spent the 2014 Christmas period in Brisbane whilst Mr Dickson visited friends in Bundaberg. During their time apart, Mr Dickson exhibited controlling and jealous behaviours. He demanded that Ms Blackmore take photos of the people she was with so that he could satisfy himself that she wasn’t cheating on him. Mr Dickson sent messages to Ms Blackmore’s male friends from her mobile phone, impersonating her, and asking when they were free to have sex again, in an attempt to ‘catch her out’ for alleged infidelity.
On 28 December 2014, Ms Blackmore travelled from Brisbane to Bundaberg to meet and stay overnight with Mr Dickson at a local motel. An argument ensued in the motel room, with Mr Dickson asking Ms Blackmore why he was her “dirty little secret”, and then pushing and grabbing her on the shoulders. They then both went to the motel’s front office where the manager witnessed Mr Dickson and Ms Blackmore in a tug of war over a handbag, Ms Blackmore saying she wanted to break up, and Mr Dickson becoming more agitated as he tried to convince Ms Blackmore to get into the car with him. Ms Blackmore whispered to the manager to call the police. When Mr Dickson went outside to sit in his car, Ms Blackmore told the manager that he (Mr Dickson) had earlier put his hands around her neck, that she was frightened for her life, and that if the manager didn’t get the police he (Mr Dickson) would kill her.
The police attended the motel, took statements from the parties, and told Mr Dickson that they would be applying for a protection order on Ms Blackmore’s behalf. The police supervised the return of personal effects to Ms Blackmore and the exchange of their respective mobile phones. Ms Blackmore told the police she intended to catch a train to Rockhampton. Mr Dickson then left the motel, as did the police. Not long after however, Mr Dickson returned to the motel and Ms Blackmore told the manager that Mr Dickson had taken $400 from her bag. The manager became concerned for Ms Blackmore’s safety and assisted her to be collected by a friend.
The Application for a Protection Order prepared by the police included grounds that it was necessary and desirable to protect the aggrieved due to the respondent’s violent nature and history and the aggrieved’s level of fear towards the respondent.
Ms Blackmore asked a friend to drive her to Middlemount so she could collect her property and passport from Mr Dickson’s unit. They arrived in the early hours of 30 December 2014. Before the friend left Ms Blackmore, they agreed on a code in case Ms Blackmore was in trouble and the police should be called.
Mr Dickson told police that when he arrived at his unit around lunchtime on 30 December 2014, Ms Blackmore was waiting for him so she could retrieve her possessions. He said he and Ms Blackmore had sex on two occasions, they fell asleep, and then argued. He admitted to grabbing Ms Blackmore around the collar bone or shoulder, shaking and squeezing her, resulting in red marks on her shoulders and around her neck. He also admitted to making contact with her lip causing it to bleed. Mr Blackmore claimed that Ms Blackmore was screaming at him to stop, while also crying and saying that she loved him and didn’t want to leave him.
Mr Dickson told police that late in the evening of 30 December 2014 he and Ms Blackmore decided to drive to Brisbane in his vehicle. He said initially Ms Blackmore sat in the rear while Mr Dickson drove as she appeared to be searching for something in one of her bags. A later examination of the vehicle revealed that Mr Dickson had taken possession of Ms Blackmore’s mobile phone and had put it in the driver’s door well. Mr Dickson said Ms Blackmore subsequently climbed over to the front passenger seat, complaining of motion sickness; then another argument ensued involving Mr Dickson screaming verbal abuse at Ms Blackmore. Mr Dickson denied using any physical violence against Ms Blackmore while they were in the vehicle. Mr Dickson told police he was driving the vehicle at around 100km per hour when Ms Blackmore suddenly opened the door and exited the vehicle. Mr Dickson told police he then took steps to locate Ms Blackmore, keep her alive, contact emergency services and assist in her transfer to hospital.
Ms Blackmore’s head injuries resulted in her death on 2 January 2015. There were no alcohol or drugs detected in her system.
Mr Dickson pleaded guilty to (the alternative charge of) manslaughter of Ms Blackmore, and served time. See para 135 on pages 15-16 for the Judge’s sentencing remarks.
Key findings by the Coroner:
Ms Blackmore was all the more vulnerable by virtue of the fact she was a Filipino woman, English was not her first language, and she resided in Middlemount (a remote and isolated location). Her physical isolation was compounded by her isolation from family, including her children. Her support network and resources were extremely limited.
Queensland Police, ‘Chapter 9: Domestic Violence’ in Operational Procedures Manual (Issue 70, 5 June 2019), Appendix 9.1 ‘Domestic Violence Protective Assessment Framework’.
The Family Safety Framework (FSF) was developed under the auspice of the South Australian Government's Women's Safety Strategy and Keeping Them Safe - Child Protection Agenda, to drive improved, integrated service responses to violence against women and children in South Australia.Office for Women (SA), Family Safety Framework.
Explains the risk assessment tool used in Tasmania to understand risk in domestic violence cases. Evaluates the success of this system. Importantly, notes risk factors in a number of categories. Looks at the issue from a law enforcement perspective. Makes a distinction between high risk factors generally and high risk factors for re-offending (p 4).
Identifies consensus in literature that, ‘important risk factors include: a history of violent behaviour; a history of physical, sexual or emotional abuse toward the partner; access to lethal weapons; antisocial behaviour and attitudes; relationship instability (recent divorce or separation); lifestyle stressors (employment, finances); history of family violence from family of orientation; mental health issues or personality disorder; resistance to change; and, attitudes that support violence toward women’ (p25). RAST data also indicates some correlation between firearms and increased risk assessment scores (p21).
This document has been produced in a human services context. Therefore, when approaches to risk assessment are addressed (p 19), it is not from a judicial perspective. Of particular importance are the conclusions drawn on page 20. The authors note, “In the context of family violence, it is critical that the work of professionals recognises and respects that women and children already have their own knowledge and methods to identify, analyse and evaluate risk. Research has found that victims are often good predictors of their own level of risk so their perspectives must be included in the process of assessing risk.”
Figure 5 (pp27-9) includes risk factors that affect the likelihood and severity of family violence, including suicide. Importantly, the authors make a distinction between these factors, and factors affecting risk of ongoing and continued violence (p 30). This distinction is lacking in much of the other literature. The authors favour a standardised approach to risk assessment. They note the elements of such an approach as “victim’s assessment of risk, evidence-based risk factors, and professional judgement” (Figure 6, p 44).
See also: Victoria Police, Code of Practice For the Investigation of Family Violence (3rd ed, 2017), 27.