Are your kids ‘pinups’?

(A Courtroom experience.)

“Are your kids ‘pinups’?” the community women’s solicitor asked me.

I stared back blankly thinking of the photogenically endowed.

“Oh. You don’t know do you? Are they PINOPs? That’s a Person In Need Of Protection. Are they named in the AVO?”

“Yes.” I answered, “They are.”

An Apprehended Violence Order (AVO) is a court order that aims to protect a person by restricting or prohibiting another person from doing specified things. AVOs are based on the protected person’s fear of experiencing unwanted conduct from the defendant in the future — conduct such as physical violence, intimidation, stalking, harassment or threats.

The solicitor had this way of looking directly into my eyes that was somewhat calming. She was late thirtyish, good bone structure and the trace of an Irish accent, wearing one of those insipid, dark-greyish suits that female solicitors seem to favour. We were sitting in an office of the court house. The room had a strong musty smell from the recent rains. Something that the building’s modern façade couldn’t hide was its 1880s foundations and their accelerated rising damp given the recent rain.

“How can we put this, then?” she asked. “You want to change the five, but they haven’t put in the five they’ve marked the six. It’s the one, three and six. But you wanted the five.”

I stared back blankly again, thinking now she figured me to be a bit thick.

“Oh. You don’t know, do you? Here, this will explain it.”

She handed me a copy of an AVO “style sheet”. I don’t know what it’s called but it lists types of AVOs and also the actions they contain. It’s a matter of mix and match to any given situation and each action is given a number. For example, a “five” means you can use the terms for contact in an existing court order, but if you put in a “six” then you need to change the terms of contact by a mutual written agreement. I don’t want my ex to come to my house but I do want her to be able to call us, or for us to call her. The agreement needs to be drafted by a solicitor and hence me sitting in front of one.

“Do you have a court order for residence?”, “Yes I do but not with me”, “You see, if you have a court order that will be taken into account if you ask for a five and then you won’t need the six.”, “ I did give the police a copy of the court orders.”, “Well they should have known then.”

She continued, pushing a dark bob behind her ear, “Maybe we can go back and change the six to a five if they haven’t left the court, but maybe it’s a bit late and, oh, let’s just do the six and the letter. Are you sure your ex will agree to it?”, “Yes, I spoke with her last night. I called her because I was worried about where she was. I hadn’t heard from her for a week or so.”

“You know she could go to jail for that.”

“It’s OK, I rang her.”

“No, that doesn’t count. She will have breached the AVO even if she didn’t make the call.”, “Oh, you mean the police could jail her even if I initiated the contact?” She nodded.

“But if we get this letter written we can change the conditions of the AVO and we can also word it so she can’t ring you if she’s drunk or abusive.”, “Sounds fine to me.”, “Do you think she’ll accept it?” , “I can ring and ask her.”, “No you can’t, but I can”.

So she called my ex who agreed to the conditions. Then she typed up the letter.

But let’s just go back to the start of my day in court. It was fortunate that I’d got this far.

When I first arrived, up the steps and into the chamber, I was greeted by the Magistrate’s secretary who asked my business. (A magistrate is a local court judge.)

“I’m sorry you can’t go into the protected person’s room. It’s for women only.” she said.

“That’s OK. I’ll just sit in the court room gallery.”

I was quite happy to do that. I tend not to frequent courts but they are interesting if you are not on their wrong side.

I sat through the DUI’s (Driving Under the Influence), a contract dispute and some other AVOs.

About an hour later when I was starting to feel slightly neglected, a special police officer came into the court and asked those of us in the gallery if there was anyone attending for an AVO. I half raised my hand but he went straight to a scraggy looking fellow who was a defendant in another AVO. The police officer then left the court and I didn’t see him till some time later. I’ll call him “special” because of his defined role in AVO cases.

When my AVO finally came up, well it was actually my ex-wife who was the defendant and there were other charges involved, her “legal aid” solicitor relayed that she was pleading guilty to all charges. She had faxed her plea to the court as her bail condition stated that she could not be within 50km of the town we were in, making it difficult for her to attend without being arrested.

The magistrate then asked if I was in the court and I indicated to her where I was.

It was then I asked if the contact conditions of the AVO could be changed to allow my ex to phone the kids and me.

The special police officer I had seen before beckoned me to the table where the solicitors and prosecutors sat. The police prosecutor turned around to show me the AVO details, and pointed to the “six”. He appeared the kind of bloke who wouldn’t look out of place on a Harley in full “colours”, he was thick set with a kind of goatee and well used suit. I guess you need to look pretty tough to be a police prosecutor. He looked a bit annoyed that I wanted to change the AVO conditions but then the special police officer took me aside and tried to explain to me what I needed to do to achieve it.

The process wasn’t that straightforward and he said I should get a solicitor to draft it up for me. My thoughts immediately went to “lawyer equals money — so forget it” but he said “Look, just wait in the court and I will see if I can get you some help.”

So I went back and sat down. It was a while, and some other AVO cases later, that the Magistrate decided to have a recess. The police officer was off talking to the prosecutor. At that stage I was feeling a bit disheartened about the whole process and figured I should just leave. I didn’t think the system cared about me at all. So I walked out of the court house and down the steps.

“Excuse me!” There was a yell from behind. I turned around and it was the special police officer coming after me. “Come back! I’m sorry. I was attending to another matter and didn’t mean to ignore you”, he apologised.

I came back and stood next to him on the court house steps.

“I can get you some legal help if you want. I’m sorry but the system isn’t geared to people like you.” I’d been thinking about the blatant sexism of it all and this sounded good: someone who knows what I’m going through, and a cop to boot.

He expanded, “You’re not aboriginal, are you, or a migrant?”

“If you’re a white, Anglo male you really get left to your own devices”, he said. I wasn’t going to disagree with him. I was thinking about the disgruntled men who were sitting near me in the court gallery, defendants in AVO proceedings.

“So what exactly is your role here?” I asked him. He explained that he was a police facilitator in AVO cases, usually he dealt with women PINOPs but he said “There are more cases like yours these days, men who are the protected persons.”

We chatted for a while. He asked me how I was traveling and whether myself or my sons had received any intervention or counseling in the whole matter. We hadn’t. I was really warming to this guy, he was late thirtyish, a fairly solid bloke you could easily mistake for a cop. He had clearly seen a lot of these cases and had gained some real understanding and compassion along the way.

So we chatted a bit more. He offered to get myself and my sons referred for counseling, then he ushered me into the PINOP room in the court house. There were a number of women in the room; two were solicitors with a community legal network, a network of solicitors that is funded by Legal Aid (a state government funded organisation that helps low income earners with legal representation).

He explained why I was there and one of the solicitors, the one with the good bone structure, asked me to wait for her at the court office. I thanked the police officer and left.

So, rejoining my story back in the musty court office. When the solicitor went to print the letter to the court she had drafted for me (the one with the “fives” and “sixes”), the printer wouldn’t work. I offered to trouble shoot it for her and she indicated that would be helpful. I found the problem: a faulty power point that maybe had something to do with the recent rain and rising damp. She got me to sign and then witnessed the letter. I thanked her profusely.

“By the way” she said as I was leaving “I can’t be your solicitor, I will have to say I represented your ex. You see I’m only allowed to represent women.”

“Right. Well thanks anyway.” I walked out into the sunshine.

Notes:

Domestic violence is a major issue in Australia, and has been a prominent topic in the recent 2016 Federal elections. The perpetrators are overwhelmingly male.

However the Law Society’s “Submission to Statutory Review of Crimes

(Domestic and Personal Violence) Act 2007” (Spohr, 2011) states:

“Due to funding arrangements, some Community Legal Centres will not provide advice to the male party in an AVO matter. AVOs exist for a reason, and fulfil a vital role. The PINOP should be afforded all possible protection and advocacy. However, that is not a sufficient reason to compromise the fairness of the process. Whatever the solution, the unfairness of representation in AVO proceedings must be confronted and may require reconsideration of the funding arrangements at Legal Aid and related organisations.”

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