Mark Russell Published: June 26, 2011A HUGE surge in frivolous intervention order applications is clogging up the courts and resulting in the bans being ''thrown around like confetti'', frustrated lawyers have told The Sunday Age.
The Law Institute of Victoria is so concerned about the trend it has called on the state government to tighten the definition of stalking to prevent the law from being abused and used in trivial neighbourhood and workplace disputes.
Justice Department figures obtained by The Sunday Age show there were 13,668 family violence intervention orders granted in the 10 months to April 30, 1300 more than for the full year of 2009-10. Over the same period, 3617 stalking intervention orders were granted - 224 more than for the whole of 2009-10.
Institute spokesman Rob Stary said the orders - which prevent a person from behaving in a way that makes another person feel unsafe - had become so prolific there was a danger they could lose their effectiveness.
''They are at real risk of being devalued so far as the courts are concerned, particularly for women who are the subject of domestic violence,'' he said.
''If you have a blue with your neighbour, you shouldn't be able to take out an intervention order. There should be some other solution.''
Intervention orders - which carry a maximum two years jail and a $24,000 fine if they are breached - are issued by a magistrate under the Family Violence Protection Act 2008 or the Stalking Intervention Orders Act 2008 and are designed to protect people in real fear for their safety.
But Mr Stary said the system was open to abuse because the applications were free of charge and magistrates could be reluctant to refuse an intervention order in case they were blamed for failing to prevent a subsequent incidence of domestic violence.
Part of the problem was the poor framing of the stalking legislation, he said. He pointed to a recent case involving an RMIT University professor taking out an interim intervention order against a student for comments allegedly posted on an internet forum. An interim order was granted, but the professor dropped his application for a permanent intervention order last month.
''It was a frivolous application by RMIT,'' Mr Stary said.
An RMIT spokesman said the intervention order case was a private matter and the university had not been a party to it.
Attorney-General Robert Clark said he was happy to discuss the Institute's concerns.
''It is important that the law relating to intervention orders provides proper protection against stalking, including stalking that occurs in neighbourhoods and in workplaces,'' Mr Clark said.
He said victims of bullying could also now apply for intervention orders after the passing of a new bill, dubbed ''Brodie's Law'', through Parliament last month.
The new law was introduced following the death of Brodie Panlock, 19, in 2006. Brodie took her own life after being victimised by colleagues at a Hawthorn cafe.
Victoria Legal Aid director of family law Judy Small said the stalking legislation was vital, particularly for women and children in genuine fear for their safety.
She said some lawyers regarded such disputes as trivial but for the people caught up in them, they were a nightmare. ''Unfortunately the only legal redress people involved in these disputes have at the moment is through the Stalking Intervention Orders Act,'' she said.
The Personal Safety Intervention Orders Act, to be introduced from January 1 next year is expected to cut the number of intervention order applications going before the courts by encouraging mediation.
''Mediation is a better way of resolving a dispute than an intervention order, which simply stops people from talking to each other or being anywhere near each other,'' she said.
This story was found at: http://www.theage.com.au/victoria/intervention-orders-clogging-our-courts-20110625-1gkwp.html