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AVO: Apprehended Violence Order

An Apprehended Violence Order (AVO) is a court order issued to protect victims of domestic or personal violence, who are fearful of future acts of violence or intimidation by a particular abuser. This order restrains the conduct of the defendant, by imposing conditions that restrict their behaviour, such as a condition preventing them from approaching the protected person. A court will usually issue an AVO, but in some instances, the police may implement a protection order. An AVO is not a criminal charge or conviction, but breaching one can result in criminal punishments.

AVO is the term used in New South Wales, but similar protection orders can be obtained in other Australian jurisdictions: these orders are known as Intervention Orders in South Australia and Victoria; Domestic Violence Protection Orders in Queensland; Restraining Orders in Western Australia; Family Violence Orders in Tasmania; and, Domestic Violence Orders in the Northern Territory and the ACT. Fortunately, a protection order issued in any state or territory of Australia is enforceable in the other jurisdictions, so victims can move between states and receive continual protection.

While the titles of protection orders differ, the processes are similar across jurisdictions. Broadly speaking, the courts issue an AVO if there is evidence that an applicant has reasonable grounds to fear violence, intimidation or stalking.  In some jurisdictions, an AVO will only be issued if there is evidence of a prior act of violence against the applicant.

What protection does it offer?

Protection orders cannot physically stop a defendant from perpetrating domestic or personal violence. Every year a significant number of people with current protection orders are attacked or killed despite the existence of an AVO.

Protection orders do, however, offer important benefits to individuals who are fearful for their safety or the safety of their children. Importantly, an AVO can be obtained with relative ease and swiftness, providing an immediate deterrent. An AVO can also be tailored to the particular needs of the victim: for instance, a defendant can be prohibited from intentionally or recklessly destroying or damaging property, hurting pets, or approaching someone after they have consumed alcohol or drugs. These tailored orders are ideal when a total severing of contact is impractical or unreasonable, such as when a couple shares parenting responsibility. An AVO can allow two people to continue to co-parent, with the conduct of a problematic individual moderated by court-enforceable constraints. AVOs are also inherently flexible so that if circumstances change, a victim can apply for a “variation” that changes or cancels the order. Unless the victim cancels the order, the AVO will usually end on an expiration date. The expiration date is set by the court to encompass the period that it is likely that the victim will continue to need protection, and in some jurisdiction, there is an assumed minimum period of an AVO, ranging from one to five years.

Can an AVO be contested?

When a person is a defendant in an AVO application, they can consent to the order on a without admission basis, meaning that they make no admissions relating to the allegations. The defendant in an AVO application can also try to negotiate the conditions set down in an AVO. For instance, if the terms of the AVO make it difficult for the subject of the order to travel to work, it may be possible to negotiate the conditions in a way that still protects the victim.

It is also possible for a defendant to oppose the Application and the order. Consenting to an AVO is often the least difficult path, but can result in serious repercussions for the defendant, not least in terms of reputational damage. A person with an AVO issued against them may not be able to obtain or retain a firearms licence, a security licence, or pass a working with children check. Given the potential impact of these restrictions on an individual’s livelihood, it is appropriate that the subject have an opportunity to contest the protection order.

Successfully contesting an AVO requires the defendant to establish that the AVO is not required. The test used by the courts differs across jurisdictions, but generally speaking, an AVO is only issued if the court is satisfied that the applicant has a genuine fear that they could be the victim of future violence, intimidation or stalking. Therefore, the defendant in a protection order can seek to establish that there is no reasonable basis to fear future acts of violence. This can be established even if there have been previous instances of violence or intimidation, especially if these acts are some time in the past.

How Do You Apply for an AVO?

The first step in obtaining an AVO is usually to contact the police and report the violent behaviour, intimidation or stalking. The police may well make the application for an AVO or similar protection order on behalf of the victim.

Victims who are worried about their immediate safety can apply for an interim AVO, which will offer protection until the courts hear the AVO application. Children will usually be included on the protection order of a parent.

For more information on applying for or contesting an AVO, or for advice on any other legal matter, please call Armstrong Legal on 1300 038 223 or send us an email to make an appointment.

Dr Nicola Bowes

This article was written by Dr Nicola Bowes

Dr Nicola Bowes holds a Bachelor of Arts with first class honours from the University of Tasmania, a Bachelor of Laws with first class honours from the Queensland University of Technology, and a PhD from The University of Queensland. After a decade working in higher education, Nicola joined Armstrong Legal in 2020.

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