Increasingly, parents whose children are the victims of bullying at school are seeking assistance from our legal system. In the ACT parents can do this by applying to the ACT Magistrates Court seeking protection orders for their children under the Personal Violence Act 2016 (ACT).
In this article, Haydn Marsh explains under what circumstances the Court might issue protection orders, and what role schools and teachers can play in ensuring that the orders are adhered to.
Under the applicable legislation, parents can apply for protection orders (‘Orders’), on behalf of their children, that a schoolyard bully be restrained from:
- coming within a specified distance of their child
- coming to their child’s residence
- contacting their child (including through mobile phones and social media)
- engaging in acts of personal violence against their child
- causing another person to contact or engage in an act of personal violence against their child
- being at a place that their child is like to be.
On application, the Court can make an urgent Interim Order, even if the bully and their parents (referred to as the ‘respondent’) are not present, based solely on the evidence provided by child that has been bullied or their parents (referred to as the ‘applicant’).
The Interim Applications are heard by registrars of the ACT Magistrates Court. The Registrar can make an interim order if satisfied that such an order is necessary to either:
- ensure the safety of the child from personal violence
- prevent substantial damage to the child’s property.
The registrars have broad discretion in determining whether an Interim Order should be made. To help a registrar come to a decision, it’s not unusual for an applicant to give evidence about the steps they’ve taken to try to address the bullying prior to an Application being made to the Court. In particular, registrars may wish to hear evidence about internal processes that parents have taken with their child’s school in an effort to mitigate the risk of ongoing bullying.
Once an Interim Order is made, copies of the Order are served on respondents and their parents by police, and a copy of the Order is sent to the principal of the school that the children attend.
The Interim Order acts to restrain the behaviour of the respondent. If such an order is breached, it is the respondent that is held accountable. However, principals and teachers should ensure that they’ve taken steps to facilitate the respondent complying with the terms of the Order, and to protect the applicant from risk of further harm at the hands of the respondent.
The steps that a school needs to take can vary, depending on the terms that the Order has been made in. However common action can include:
- removing the applicant child and respondent child from any classes that they may share together
- restricting each child to certain parts of the school premises and playground to avoid them coming into contact with one another
- communicating with the parents of the children to ensure appropriate arrangements are in place for the children’s transportation to and from school
- maintaining appropriate supervision of the respondent child during school hours.
Taking steps such as these can mitigate the risk to students and ensure that the principal and school are appropriately exercising their duty of care responsibilities.
How can we help?
If you are considering applying for a protection order, or if you’ve been served with an Interim Personal Violence or Family Violence Order, you should seek legal advice. Our Family Law team can advise you about the options that are available to you, the processes and laws relating to protection orders, and can represent you at court. We can also advise schools and individuals about duty of care and risk. To find our more, please contact us on 02 6285 8000 or by email.