Magistrate admits tech failings in DV case

A MAN accused of harassing his ex-partner online while subject to a domestic violence order had the charge struck out on a technicality before a magistrate who admitted she was a "luddite" with no understanding of social media.

Magistrate Suzette Coates asked whether the woman could have just "de-accepted" her stalker before suggesting that "any sensible person" wouldn't be on social media.

The man, who cannot be identified for legal reasons, was charged with breaching a domestic violence order by using a fake Twitter account to repeatedly target his former partner and her business associates.

He had already spent more than a year in jail for stalking the woman when he was released on bail to live in a hostel.

It was alleged that while on bail, the man set up the fake account and used it to harass the woman and her associates.

But Magistrate Coates - who was recently criticised by a district court judge for having an "attitude of petulant bullying" and using "infelicitous language" - spent much of the hearing trying to understand Twitter before the charge was thrown out on a technicality.

She found that because the serving police officer hadn't annexed one document to another, the domestic violence order had not been properly served and therefore the man had not breached it. This forced the prosecutor to withdraw the charge.

Magistrate Coates spent most of the hearing listening to a member of the Queensland Police Service's media and communications team explain Twitter and how it works.

"Bear in mind that I have no internet presence whatsoever and I'm a computer luddite," she told the court.

"And neither do I ever want to have any presence on the internet for obvious reasons. A sensible person wouldn't."

The witness spent time explaining how Twitter accounts could be anonymous or use false names, as well as what a tweet is, how to write and post one, how to retweet and terms like "mentions" and "handles".

"These cases involving the internet are like a sort of a chapter of hell," Magistrate Coates said.

"Perhaps President Trump has put us ahead of the game on that one about, you know, what is and what isn't. What is real and what isn't real. Who is and who isn't. Who is pretending to be somebody else."

The court heard the tweets had been traced to an IP address at the hostel where the man had been living while on bail.

But further evidence on that was not presented because Magistrate Coates found there had been a paperwork error.

"The document that the person is to serve must, as a matter of practice, be actively attached to the document for which they serve, so it becomes completely bulletproof that in fact that's the order that they've served," she explained.

The police officer who served the domestic violence order gave evidence about doing so, however, Magistrate Coates said she could not accept the service had been proven.

The complainant has written a letter of complaint to the Chief Magistrate about the situation.

She told The Courier-Mail that if police officers wore body-worn cameras to serve domestic violence orders, the proof of their service would be irrefutable.

The complainant said she was offended by comments such as a "sensible" person would not be on the internet and she regarded it as victim-blaming.

"Situations like this shake the confidence of victims regarding the strength and enforceability of domestic violence orders," she said.

Magistrate Coates was criticised by District Court Judge John McGill last year when he heard an appeal for a civil court matter she'd presided over.

Judge McGill allowed the appeal and set all her orders aside, stating that "every proposition of law stated by the magistrate during the two days was wrong".

"Magistrates cannot be expected to have the same degree of legal expertise as High Court judges, or even as District Court judges, but it is reasonable to expect that they will know some law," he said in his decision.

 

Originally published as Magistrate admits tech failings in DV case



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