Thursday, December 18, 2008

Piece Of Paper Is Not Enough

It would be far too easy to say that the death of Melissa Cook is a tragedy that should not have happened. As more details of her appalling relationship with her husband have been revealed it is obvious that there were plenty of warning signs to the authorities that the risk was real. John Kudrytch had a documented history of assaulting his wife and, on at least one occasion, threatening her with a gun held at her head. He was known to be a former member of the notorious Commanchero bikie gang. He was known to be a violent man.

The Apprehended Violence Order against him was supposed to protect Melissa. As a legal instrument such orders are useless when those who pose the greatest threat have no trouble treating them with complete disregard. There’s nothing wrong with the principle of an AVO, but in practice the protection they are supposed to provide is undermined by a number of factors. The most crucial is the difficulty in enforcing the order.

In this case, the existence of an AVO was no hindrance at all. John Kudrytch just ignored it. And yet, when Melissa and her family reported breaches to the Police, little if anything was done. It’s not that Police don’t want to help, but the problem is that even when Police can find the time to investigate a complaint about the breach of an AVO, the culprit in many cases simply goes to court, gets listed for a hearing and is released again.

In addition to that, the sheer numbers of AVOs that are issued creates a massive workload, and while many AVOs are issued for very good reason, there are also too many which are not. Too often AVO’s are sought and awarded over relatively trivial matters, or even worse used as a tactic in Family Law proceedings, or to deny a spouse access to a matrimonial home. When Apprehended Violence Orders are issued for relatively trivial matters, it should be no surprise that sometimes breaches of those orders are also treated as less than urgent. It’s a state of affairs which obviously courts the risk of misreading a situation.

Even so, any breach of any AVO should be taken seriously. And when there is clear evidence of the threat of serious violence, then the response must be more robust, both in its swiftness and its effectiveness. That’s not a criticism of the Police, but an observation of the way the system is designed. Sadly, the truth is that when an individual has murderous intent, no piece of paper will stop him. That’s why the piece of paper must be backed by a more workable system.

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