Restraining orders in the Northern Territory are referred to as domestic violence orders and are designed to protect victims, their property and their children from violence that occurs in domestic relationships. They are made in accordance with the Domestic and Family Violence Act. A domestic violence order sets out the victim or victims (the protected persons) of domestic violence, and the rules which must be obeyed by the person accused of committing domestic violence (the defendant). Each domestic violence order can only specify one defendant. If a domestic violence order is required urgently, it may be made by a police officer. Otherwise, it will usually be made by the Magistrates Court.
What is domestic violence?
Domestic violence may consist of stalking, intimidation, damaging property (including the death or injury of an animal), economic abuse such as coercing a person to relinquish their control over income or other assets, conduct causing harm (such as pulling a person’s hair or slapping them), and threats to do any of the above. It occurs between people in “domestic relationships” such as people who are spouses, de facto partners, other relatives, persons who are dating or are engaged, people who live together, or people in a carer’s relationship.
Applying for a domestic violence order
If you are an adult suffering domestic violence and you do not need a domestic violence order urgently, you can apply directly to the Magistrates Court for a domestic violence order. Alternatively, a police officer or an adult acting on your behalf can make the application. If you are between 15 and 18 years old, you can only apply for a domestic violence order with the leave of the Magistrates Court. In certain circumstances, a police officer or child protection officer is required to apply to the Court for a domestic violence order on behalf of a child. If you are the parent of a child who is the victim of domestic violence you can also apply for a domestic violence order on the child’s behalf.
How a domestic violence order is made in the Northern Territory
Applications to the Magistrates Court may be considered by the Court itself or by a Clerk of the Courts. A Clerk may consider the application if the defendant has not been given notice of the hearing and does not appear at the hearing. If the clerk is not satisfied a domestic violence order should be made, then the Magistrates Court will also consider the application. A domestic violence order will only be made if there are reasonable grounds for the protected person to fear domestic violence from the defendant. Matters such as the accommodation needs of the protected person and the defendant’s criminal record will be considered in making this decision. There are specific rules for how evidence may be given to the Magistrates Court; for example, the Court will be closed if a vulnerable witness is giving evidence. Whilst the application is being considered, an “interim domestic violence order” may be made to ensure the victim is protected until the domestic violence order is made. If the order is made without the defendant receiving notice and attending the hearing, the copy of the order given to them will act as a summons to appear before the Court. The Court will then decide whether to confirm or revoke the order.
When a police officer may make a domestic violence order
A police officer may make a domestic violence order if it is satisfied an order is urgent to ensure a person’s safety or because it is not practicable to seek a domestic violence order from the Magistrates Court. The police will only make a domestic violence order if one might reasonably have been made by the Magistrates Court. As soon as possible after making the order, the police officer must give copies to the parties and file the original with the Court. The copy given to the defendant acts as a summons to appear before the Court, where the defendant may show why the order should not be confirmed by the Court. The Court will then decide whether to confirm or revoke the order.
The effect of a domestic violence order made in the Northern Territory
A domestic violence order sets out the rules which must be followed by the defendant. These rules may impose restraints on the defendant, such as prohibiting the defendant from contacting you or attending certain premises (e.g. a child’s school). They may also impose obligations on the defendant, such as requiring the defendant to vacate their home or requiring the defendant to attend a rehabilitation program. The duration of the domestic violence order will also be stated in the order. Breaching the domestic violence order is an offence.
Registering domestic violence orders from other States and Territories
If you are the protected person under a domestic violence order in another jurisdiction, you (or a police officer on your behalf) can apply to the Magistrates Court to have the order registered in the Northern Territory. If registration is granted, the order is treated as if it was granted in the Northern Territory.
What to do if a domestic violence order is breached
If you are a “protected person” under a domestic violence order and that order is breached, you should immediately contact the police. It is a criminal offence if a defendant breaches a domestic violence order (provided the defendant has received a copy of the domestic violence order). The maximum penalty for breaching a domestic violence order (whether that person is an adult or between 15 and 18 years old) is 400 penalty units (i.e. $59,600) or 2 years’ imprisonment. If a person has breached a domestic violence order more than once, then, in certain circumstances, a Court must sentence that person to at least 7 days’ imprisonment and record a conviction.
What to do if you suspect somebody is a victim of domestic violence in the NT
It is important you contact the police immediately if you suspect somebody is a victim of, or will be a victim of, domestic violence. It is an offence if you suspect this to be the case on reasonable grounds, and do not report this to the police. The maximum penalty is 200 penalty units (i.e. $29,800). However, it is a defence if you have a reasonable excuse, which may include for example reasonably believing somebody else had already reported the domestic violence.