The 2022 QLS Excellence in Law Awards are now open for peer nomination, with the added inclusion of four new award categories this year.
Queensland Law Society’s awards program seeks to acknowledge the extraordinary efforts of Queensland’s legal practitioners, and provide solicitors, teams and organisations the chance to showcase their contribution to the legal profession and the wider community.
Do you know a practitioner who deserves to be recognised for their incredible work? Read more about the 2022 QLS Excellence in Law Awards and nominate now!
QLS Proctor is featuring some of the many past QLS award recipients who continue to make a significant impact to this day.
Sharell O’Brien – inaugural ‘Dame Quentin Bryce Domestic Violence Prevention Advocate Award’ recipient, 2019
Throughout the month of May, Queensland has observed ‘Domestic and Family Violence Prevention Month’ to raise awareness of domestic and family violence (DFV) within the community and drive home the message that DFV will not be tolerated.
Earlier this month, the Queensland Government announced an overhaul of DFV laws and practices which would serve to better protect victims of domestic violence and hold perpetrators to account.
Over the last decade, Sharell O’Brien has dedicated her legal work to DFV and its prevention, providing duty lawyer services, casework representation, and early intervention strategies such as community legal education, awareness projects and advocacy for law reform. The inaugural Dame Quentin Bryce Domestic Violence Prevention Advocate Award recipient in 2019, Sharell was recognised for her contribution to addressing DFV and advocating for change.
Sharell currently works as a solicitor with the North Queensland Women’s Legal Service (NQWLS), a specialist legal service that provides free legal advice to women experiencing DFV. Prior to this she worked at the Mackay Women’s Service where she coordinated the Mackay DFV high risk team, a multi-agency response to DFV in place to improve responses for people at imminent risk of harm and increase victim safety.
Sharell recently shared her insights with QLS Proctor.
QLS Proctor: Could you tell me more about your current role at NQWLS?
Sharell: NQWLS is a not-for-profit community legal centre that provides free legal advice to women in the areas of family law and domestic and family violence. NQWLS not only responds to those affected by domestic and family violence, but is also involved in preventative work. A day of a NQWLS solicitor may consist of providing duty lawyer services at the domestic and family violence courts, completing urgent documents for clients to file in the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia, delivering community legal education workshops to community support organisations, delivering respectful relationship programs to school students, or drafting submissions to a taskforce or law reform discussion paper.
QLS Proctor: You’ve focused on domestic abuse prevention for some time now – what improvements have you observed within the DFV space over this period?
Sharell: Despite there being a long way to go in changing community attitudes towards domestic and family violence, I have seen some significant initiatives in the DFV space that are contributing to the awareness and improved responses to domestic and family violence matters. These have included the implementation of DFV high-risk teams, specialist DFV courts, the introduction of criminal offences that attempt to respond to behaviour used by high-risk domestic violence perpetrators, greater funding of research and taskforces focused on evaluating responses to those experiencing DFV.
QLS Proctor: The four-month commission of inquiry examining Queensland Police Service responses to DFV is scheduled to commence Monday 30 May. Is there anything in particular you’d like to see come from this?
Sharell: The Queensland Police Service has a very difficult, but important role in responding to incidents of domestic and family violence. Unfortunately, when the response is inadequate, the consequences can result in the death of a woman or child.
I would like to see initiatives that provide coordinated responses involving a multi-disciplinary approach to improve the safety of the victim and hold the perpetrator to account. I hope the inquiry provides an understanding of how improvements can be made, and that the implementation of recommendations that will contribute to the prevention of future inadequate responses, occurs quickly.
It is important that all services that support, respond to or work with those experiencing DFV continually examine their procedures to ensure they are effectively contributing to the safety of women and children affected by DFV.
QLS Proctor: The Government’s proposed package of DFV reforms announced this month included, among other things, making coercive control a criminal offence. How far do you think this would go in terms of protecting women in an abusive and controlling relationship?
Sharell: Any legislation that has principles and objectives to improve the safety of women and to hold perpetrators to account is a positive step. I think with the correct drafting, education about recognising coercive control and appropriate responses to these behaviours, understanding the principles of the legislation and using that understanding to administer the legislation could be one of many ways to improve the protection of women experiencing an abusive and controlling relationship.
QLS Proctor: What do you wish more people knew about DFV?
Sharell: That domestic and family violence can happen to anyone. And, that everyone in the community can contribute to ending domestic and family violence – whether that be by educating yourself more about the signs, advocating for changes to improve responses to DFV, knowing where to seek help for a friend, or, providing support to a person who has experienced DFV. It will take the whole community working together to end domestic and family violence.