Many of the barriers to exchanging information are administrative and cultural, rather than legislative, in nature.
Information-sharing protocols formalise what information can be exchanged, to whom, and on what conditions. A number of information-sharing protocols have been entered into between courts and child protection agencies. However, the Commissions are only aware of one such protocol in the context of family violence—the protocol in Western Australia between the Family Court of Western Australia, the Magistrates Court (in particular, the specialist Family Violence Court), and the Attorney-General’s Department, Corrective Services Department and Legal Aid. The parties entered into the protocol in February 2009.
Information-sharing protocols appear to have considerable potential to improve information sharing between federal family courts, state and territory courts, and other relevant agencies and organisations. In particular, they can clarify the situations in which information sharing is desirable and necessary, as well as the lawful boundaries of disclosure. In the Commissions’ preliminary view, courts that hear protection order proceedings in each state and territory should enter into an information-sharing protocol with the Family Court, Federal Magistrates Court, police and relevant government departments. It may also be appropriate to include non-government organisations such as family violence support workers. The development of information-sharing protocols in the context of family violence is consistent with the views expressed in Time for Action.
Proposal 10–14 Courts that hear protection order proceedings in each state and territory should enter into an information-sharing protocol with the Family Court of Australia, Federal Magistrates Court, police, relevant government departments and other organisations that hold information in relation to family violence.
A national protection order database
Implementation of a national protection order database provides the opportunity for a system-wide approach to information-sharing. The impetus for a national protection order database is closely connected to the Australian Government’s commitment to work with states and territory governments to establish a national registration system for protection orders.
A national protection order database would have at its core information about protection orders, including the prohibitions or conditions imposed by orders and their duration. However, there may also be scope to extend the ambit of the database to include information about parenting orders and—going further—child protection information from state and territory agencies and undertakings entered into pursuant to Hague Convention recovery orders. The Commissions are interested in stakeholder views about what information should be included in a national protection order database.
A related issue is the persons and entities that may access information on the national protection order database. The Commissions’ preliminary view is that—at a minimum—access should be available to police officers, federal family courts and state and territory courts that hear protection order proceedings. However, the Commissions are also interested in hearing about others for whom access may be beneficial—for example, child protection agencies and children’s courts. The Commissions note that privacy and security concerns mean that access to such data should be on a ‘need to know’ basis. Current safeguards used in CrimTrac, such as audit logs, should also apply.
Proposal 10–15 A national protection order database should be established as a component of the Australian Government’s commitment to the implementation of a national registration system for protection orders. At a minimum, information on the database should:
- include protection orders made under state and territory family violence legislation as well as orders and injunctions made under the Family Law Act 1975 (Cth); and
- be available to federal, state and territory police officers, federal family courts, and state and territory courts that hear protection order proceedings.
Question 10–21 Is there any other information which should be included on, or are there any other persons who should have access to, the national protection order database, over and above those set out in Proposal 10–15?