Breach DVO Offences (NT)
An offence very commonly dealt with in the NT Local Courts and Youth Justice Courts is the offence of contravening a Domestic Violence Order (DVO). A DVO can be breached in a number of ways, including by assaulting the protected person and by having contact with the protected person when contact is forbidden under the order. The offence of breach DVO is commonly charged together with other offences arising out of the same incident, such as aggravated assault or criminal damage. This article outlines the offence of breaching a DVO in the NT.
Section 120 of the Domestic and Family Violence Act 2007 contains the offence of breach DVO. A person is guilty of an offence if they engage in conduct that amounts to a contravention of a DVO that is in force against them.
In order to be found guilty of this offence, the person must have been given a copy of the DVO.
A person who breaches a DVO is liable to a fine of up to 200 penalty units or imprisonment for up to two years. This maximum penalty applies to adults as well as to young persons.
Under section 121 of the Domestic and Family Violence Act 2007, a mandatory sentence of a minimum of seven days of imprisonment applies to a person who is found guilty of a breach DVO offence if they have previously been found guilty of another breach DVO offence. This applies to young people as well as adults.
What is breach DVO?
A wide range of actions can form the basis of a charge of breaching a DVO, depending on the conditions of the DVO. The following are common breaches:
- Having contact with the protected person when there is a condition that the defendant is not to contact the protected person;
- Being intoxicated with alcohol or drugs in the presence of the protected person when the DVO specifies that the defendant is not to have contact with the protected person while intoxicated;
- Assaulting the protected person;
- Verbally abusing the protected person;
- Damaging property belonging to the protected person;
- Asking another person to pass a message on to the protected person when the DVO has a condition that the defendant is not to contact the protected person directly or indirectly.
What if the protected person initiated the breach?
It is common for a charge of breach DVO to arise from a situation where the protected person initiated contact with the defendant. It is important to be aware that in this situation, it is still the defendant who is legally at fault. This is because a DVO restrains the defendant from doing certain things. It does not restrain the protected person.
The only situation where the protected person in a DVO would get in trouble for initiating contact with the defendant is if there were reciprocal DVOs and the protected person was the defendant in the other order. The following scenarios illustrate this.
Person A has a DVO against Person B. The DVO states that Person B is not to contact Person A directly or indirectly.
Person A then contacts Person B and asks him to come to her house. Person B comes to Person A’s house and the police attend and find him there.
Person B is in breach of the DVO.
Person A and Person B have reciprocal DVOs against each other. In one DVO, Person A is the protected person and Person B is the defendant. In the other DVO, Person B is the protected person and Person A is the defendant. Both DVOs state that the defendant is not to have contact with the protected person while intoxicated.
Person A and Person B get drunk together. Both are in breach of a DVO.
The offence of breach DVO is a strict liability offence. This means that a person can be found guilty regardless of whether they intended or foresaw that the DVO would be breached.
The only defence that can be relied on in relation to a strict liability offence is that of honest and reasonable mistake of fact. A person would not be guilty of a breach DVO offence in the following circumstances:
- The defendant in a DVO with a condition not to contact the protected person saw the protected person in the street and mistook her for someone else. He approached her and said hello, before realising his mistake.
- The defendant in a DVO with a condition not to have contact with the protected person while intoxicated drank what she believed to be a non-alcoholic beverage while with the protected person. The drink turned out to have alcohol in it.
It is important to note that the defence of honest and reasonable mistake relates to mistakes of fact and not to mistakes of law. If a person is mistaken about the law in relation to DVOs, this does not provide them with a defence.
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