Stopping domestic violence should be the NSW justice system’s first priority, rather than the endless war on cannabis, a recently retired local magistrate says.
In his first interview after 21 years on the bench, David Heilpern has opened up about his observations regarding the devastating impact of violence within the home, and his frustration at the lack of proactive policing to address it.
‘This sort of violence is incredibly damaging,’ Mr Heilpern says.
‘I can honestly say that I rarely, if ever saw, a repeat juvenile or child offender who had not seen or witnessed violence in the home or been a victim of family violence in the home.’
‘And the stats on women offenders and domestic and family violence are just horrendous.’
As the police proudly trumpeted the seizure of $22m worth of cannabis near Lismore last week, Mr Heilpern says the same level of proactive policing should be applied to stopping violence.
‘Right now, most domestic and family violence policing is completely reactive,’ he says.
‘For example, I was never asked to authorise a single search warrant for domestic violence, but regularly for drug offences.
‘Every time I see police helicopters swooping down with the ground crew, and the expense and all the rest, I think “maybe community values have shifted and family violence should be the priority”,’ he says.
Some have argued that tackling domestic violence requires not only a more effective use of police resources, but a change in government policy to better address both the causes of violence and to provide better support for those who are effected.
This includes programs aimed specifically at changing attitudes toward women within the community, and the provision of more refuges for women and children who have experienced family violence.
More than a dozen such refuges have been closed across NSW during the current government’s reign.
Mr Heilpern also questioned the level of compensation given to survivors of domestic and family violence.
‘I’ve got a friend who is a long-term victim of sexual assault,’ he says.
‘Her compensation was $15,000. But if you’re assaulted by a priest, it’s $150,000.
‘Now, I haven’t got a problem with the latter amount, I think that is the rightful level of compensation.
‘But I think the amount of compensation for domestic violence victims is far too low.’
Despite having presided over numerous domestic violence cases and other cases involving the appalling violence, Mr Heilpern says he retains his faith in human beings.
‘There are only a handful of people that I’ve concluded are bad to the bone,’ he says.
‘Most people don’t want to hurt others, they don’t want to take from others, they don’t want to endanger the community.
‘I really think that the court has a therapeutic role in helping people find a pathway of achieving, not society’s goals or the community’s goals, but achieving their own goals.
‘So in many ways sitting up there has strengthened my optimism about the essential goodness of human nature.’