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Byron Shire
May 9, 2021

Police should focus on punch throwers not pot growers: retired magistrate

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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.

Recently retired magistrate David Heilpern. Photo Jeff Dawson

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.’

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  1. I have really enjoyed the articles on Magistrate Heilperm and his views which i believe are more in line with the community than the boys in blue. Ganja/grass is a case in point and getting our priorities right and being pro-active with domestic violence was a great example. In one of the early articles he spoke about the institutional racism against Aborigines and hope he goes into more detail about this area of law – especially the findings of the Royal Commission into Blacks Deaths in Custody and their recommendations and how the police in all states and territories have not implemented the majority of them. Lastly it would be great to hear his thoughts on Restorative Justice and how it could be implemented on a much wider scale.

  2. He is right to draw attention to the anomaly.
    Nothing ‘gung-ho’ about interviewing a victim of domestic violence.
    But, roll the cameras, strutt your stuff for drugs!

  3. “‘Most people don’t want to hurt others, they don’t want to take from others, they don’t want to endanger the community.” but those who do, join the police force or enter politics.
    Thanks so much David, for being a gleam of sanity , in a sickeningly corrupt system that is unable to hold even the likes of George Pell to account.
    Cheers, G”)

  4. X MAGISTRATE HEILPERM is a one in a million kinda guy. Has his priorities right & has had a lifetime of experience dealing with the judicial system that is NOT always fair (unless he is at the bench). His insights and mammoth wisdom is to be admired & respected. I do believe our ‘democratic system’ is dying in the ICU ward and only a huge awakening & groundswell of activism is ever gonna change it. We have institutionalised corruption with so many politicians with their snouts in the trough, additionally many are happy to be ‘owned’ by corporations because lets face it…..they’ll end up working for them. The Deputy PM only last Melbourne Cup charged ALL of his expenses for himself & his wife to the tax payer.I don’t believe for one minute that Mr Heilperm will be entering politics (re the statement above mine) and I wish that weren’t true. However, I can’t wait to see this amazing man stomping the boards at the Drill Theatre ASAP.

  5. I totally agree with Mr Heilpern. As a former police prosecutor and now barrister, it strikes me that the police are very good on enforcing victimless crime such as drug and speeding offences, but lazy or lax when it comes to attending actual victims of crime – particularly domestic violence. This need to change.

  6. Excellent article. Great comments.
    Could not agree more . The elephant in the room with domestic violence is alcohol.
    It is absolutely incredible that we continue this ludicrous war on drugs that can never be won and in effect is a war against ourselves. Is even more unfathomable that you can buy as much alcohol as you like…a semi trailer even. Yet you can’t have any cannabis at all???? . I would like to see the statistics on alcohol and family violence. And to run a trial for perpetrators of FV to be given medicinal cannabis and a total alcohol ban. I would confidently say the family violence rates would drop through the floor… no pun intended. We have tried this idiotic system for too long and all we are doing is creating a bigger problem. Why can we not have satellite testing of different methodology rather than beat a dead horse and getting nowhere.
    Or are we just scared of the vested interests that stand behind the current legal system. Alcohol lobby and big pharma… No forgetting the $40 a pop roadside drug test kits Mmmmm.. I think someone’s making some good money on those..?

  7. It’s good to hear Mr. Heilpern’s voice on this issue, and I’m afraid he has opened a can of worms.
    Safe Housing or actually homing or rehoming of victims of violence, especially where children are also displaced by the violence, is what is glaringly missing. And that is a criminality on the part of the useless overpaid government office dwellers, especially you Morrison, “Leader”, and your nexts in charge, overpaid 100% because you are clueless, disconnected from your fellow humans, uncaring – except for your own, and your own material wealth, of which you haven’t earned a single cent, as you haven’t provided any paths to safety for affected families. Where do you think people go after abuse, especially violent abuse? What is the government for, if it can’t even house people in need? Children in need? What are they meant to do? Grovel back to their abusers for more abuse? Be part of the streetscape? What? Did I just hear you say, “who cares?” That’s the point really isn’t it. The government is full of clueless idiots just simply on the take, who DO NOT CARE, as long as their own futures are taken care of. Make sure you enjoy those flexi-days and holidays and superannuation and long service leave that you never earned, won’t you. Got your bums nice and warm on your comfy ergonomic office chairs in your airconditioned positions? I bet you do, and still you haven’t helped anyone.


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