One in four cases before NSW local courts last year related to domestic violence, data reveals

<span>The Downing Centre local court in Sydney. The number of domestic violence-related cases before NSW local courts has grown to 26% in 2023.</span><span>Photograph: Bianca de Marchi/AAP</span>
The Downing Centre local court in Sydney. The number of domestic violence-related cases before NSW local courts has grown to 26% in 2023.Photograph: Bianca de Marchi/AAP

A quarter of all matters before local courts in New South Wales last year were related to domestic violence, new data shows, as community legal services warn of a critical lack in funding to help victim-survivors seek justice.

Data from the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research (Bocsar) showed 26% of matters finalised in local courts in 2023 were related to domestic violence, up from 20% in 2019.

The proportion of domestic and family violence-related assault charges withdrawn from the local court by the prosecution has also increased, from 18% in 2019 to 27% in 2023.

Meanwhile, the average time taken to finalise a contested domestic family violence matter in the local court took 266 days in 2023, up from 170 days in 2019.

Related: Debt, danger or a decade of fighting: how a lack of legal services leaves DV victims with dire choices

Jackie Fitzgerald, the executive director of Bocsar, said the increase in withdrawal rates may be linked to the time it takes the courts to finalise the matters. She said this delay is in part due to courts catching up post-pandemic as matters continue to accrue.

“There’s a question about whether the resources of the court are adequate to deal with this additional pressure,” Fitzgerald said.

“Apart from the stress and extended trauma it causes for victims, there is then the likelihood that this then won’t be resolved in court.”

Demand for Legal Aid’s help in NSW has also increased, with the agency seeing a 61% rise over two years for its legal services.

In April, the legal service said it expects the demand to increase further once the coercive control law – which makes controlling an intimate partner via abuse a criminal offence – comes into effect in NSW in July.

National Legal Aid warned that more than $300m in annual government funding is needed to meet demand for legal services related to family violence.

Bocsar’s data revealed the number of AVO breaches before courts increased by 46% from 2019 to 2023 statewide.

The number of AVOs granted also increased by 20% during the same period statewide. In Sydney, it was up by 22% and in the regions by 17%. The Grafton and Coffs Harbour region experienced the highest increase in AVOs at 41%.

Court matters relating to all significant DV offences also increased over the five years, including by 29% for matters relating to assault and by 51% for matters primarily relating to intimidation and stalking.

Vivian Galanis, the principal solicitor at Wallumatta Legal, said the uptick was not surprising and was likely due to the historical underreporting of domestic violence incidents.

“I believe increased reporting demonstrates a positive societal shift – victim-survivors are increasingly aware of support services and emboldened to seek help,” Galanis said.

But she said the increase highlights a crucial gap in victim-survivors accessing affordable legal help.

“There is a significant lack of availability of government-funded services and affordable options for legal advice and representation – and my view is this is where increased government investment is most crucially needed,” she said.

The Domestic Violence NSW deputy chief executive, Elise Phillips, said the data released by Bocsar was only the “tip of the iceberg”.

“This increase could be due to more victim-survivors feeling safe to report but we know that much of this violence goes unreported,” Phillips said.

She said the NSW emergency DV package announced in May fell short in three critical areas, including the immediate need for a 50% funding increase for specialist domestic and family violence services, the $52m a year needed for women’s refuges and the $100m needed over four years for primary prevention.

Related: Australian government pledges almost $1bn to help women leave violent relationships

“These numbers will continue to increase as will the pressure on the government to properly address this issue by properly funding it,” Phillips said.

Calls have grown for more DV response and prevention funding ahead of the NSW budget to be delivered next week.

The Western Sydney Leadership Dialogue (WSLD) is calling for more targeted funding in greater western Sydney, where more than two-thirds of domestic violence-related homicides, assault and sexual offences in greater Sydney take place.

The region accounts for 51% of greater Sydney’s population and 59% of all reported domestic violence incidents.

“It’s not just [a] western Sydney problem … but we can’t lose sight of the fact that it is occurring in the region,” the WSLD chief executive, Adam Leto, said.

“The sooner we get the funds, the sooner we can address the problem.”

• In Australia, the national family violence counselling service is on 1800 737 732. In the UK, call the national domestic abuse helpline on 0808 2000 247, or visit Women’s Aid. In the US, the domestic violence hotline is 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). Other international helplines may be found via www.befrienders.org.

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