Murder warning signs in judges’ comments

Judge and gavel. | Newsreel
A new study has shown many men who murdered women had previous interactions with the system. | Photo: Gordon Koff (iStock)

A study of judges’ comments during the conviction of men who murdered women has found many of the crimes could have been prevented.

The Monash University report found few “intimate femicides” occurred without “prior system interaction”.

Lead researcher Professor Kate Fitz-Gibbon said the majority of perpetrators had known histories of violence.

“In many cases, different points of the system were aware of the violence within the intimate partner relationship,” Professor Fitz-Gibbon said.

“Many of the deaths could have been prevented.”

She said, in Australia, at least one woman a week was murdered by their current or former partner.

“The study aimed to scrutinise judicial understandings of risk and system interactions prior to the intimate femicide in order to build better understandings of early intervention and the prevention of women’s deaths in Australia.”

Professor Fitz-Gibbon said the study examined judicial sentencing remarks from 235 cases of men who have been convicted in Australia for killing their current or former female intimate partners over a decade.

She said the report, Securing women’s lives: Examining system interactions and perpetrator risk in intimate femicide judgments over a decade in Australia, reinforced recent calls for a greater focus on the perpetrators of this violence.

“All Australian state and territory jurisdictions need to embed effective perpetrator risk identification, assessment and management practices.”

She said the analysis revealed significant patterns in perpetrator histories prior to committing intimate femicide, both in terms of histories of domestic violence and histories of broader criminal activity.

“65 percent of offenders had a prior conviction for a criminal offence and 34 percent of offenders had a prior conviction for a domestic violence related incident.”

Professor Fitz-Gibbon said the research also looked at perpetrators’ interactions with other support services.

“In 53 percent of intimate femicide sentencing judgments analysed, the judge cited that the perpetrator had a history of alcohol abuse, 41 percent of offenders had a history of drug abuse and 46 percent had a history of mental illness.

“These findings highlight the critical role of other services and intervention points beyond the criminal justice system in preventing intimate partner violence. Preventing escalation of harm and death requires a whole of system effort,” Professor Fitz-Gibbon said.

The research also found that 10 percent of offenders were on bail or parole at the time of the intimate femicide.

“In cases where an offender was on bail at the time of their lethal violence, this was cited as an aggravating factor during the sentencing process – particularly where the bail conditions had been put in place specifically to secure improved safety for the victim,” Professor Fitz-Gibbon said.