In any relationship where domestic and family violence exists, ensuring your safety and that of your children should be your priority. That might mean obtaining a domestic violence order, or making application for custody of children through the Family Law Court. Whatever the case may be, it is important that you secure any evidence that you may need at the time of an incident. If you wait, the evidence that you need may be gone, for example a text message can be lost from a phone over time, but if you secure it correctly, you will always have a copy.
Always hope for the best - that you will never have to use evidence, but at the same time plan for the worst.
Keeping notes is important. They can be notes of conversations, events or observations. Notes should be made soon after an event or while they are fresh in your memory and kept in a safe location. You can make notes in a notebook or diary, in a computer file, or in an app designed to collect evidence such as the ARC app (find more information on our Staying Safe page). Whatever you decide, there are some rules that you should follow.
You should include a date, time and place of an incident at the start of each entry. This is important to show that your notes are made as an event occurred – in order of date. To maintain the credibility of your notes, you should
- Never tear pages from the diary or notebook – it may appear that you are trying to conceal information.
- Never scrub or white out information - if you make a mistake when you are handwriting an entry, simply put a single line through the error.
Your notes should include information on the incident, or where you obtained an item, for example 'the torn shirt collected from the floor in the lounge room'. You should also include any supporting information such as witnesses to the incident. If you are noting a conversation that has occurred, write it in first person, as best you can remember.
If you are unsure of whether to record something, err on the side of caution and write it down even if you think it is not that important. It may be become important at a later time.
Under Queensland law you are able to record a conversation with another person without them knowing that you are recording if you are a part of the conversation. For example, you can record a phone call that you are part of. You cannot leave a voice recorder in a room and then leave the room. This type of recording is illegal. Legislation varies from state to state so you would need to be sure that you are able to record if you are interstate.
Exhibits are items (evidence) that may be produced in an examination of facts, for example a Court hearing or a mediation session. An exhibit might be a photograph, video, email, text message, social media post, medical notes, digital recording, clothing, weapon (and items used as weapons for example a rock or stick) and letters. This list is by no means exhaustive and almost anything can be an exhibit if it is somehow relevant to an incident.
There are two main types of exhibits, primary (for example a torn shirt), and those that can be recorded or photographed, known as secondary exhibits. This may include something like photographs of the torn shirt, recordings or screen-shots. Whether evidence is accepted into a proceeding depends on the value and relevance of the evidence, and the way in which it has been handled.
It is important to collect any exhibits as soon after the event as possible to avoid contamination (eg other people handling item, damaging it further or walking through something spilt on the ground). You should make a note of the exhibit, describe it in detail and the location that you collected it from, when referring to the relevant incident in your diary. Photographing items where they were found can paint a clearer picture or give an accurate representation of what occurred. If the exhibit is something that you will later clean up, like broken glass, take a photo and refer to it in your notes. Ensure the integrity of your exhibit by placing the item as is, in a sealed bag or storing a photo with your notes, on a computer or in an evidence app. Store your exhibits in a safe place where you can access them if need be.
It is also important to take photographs of any injuries that you or your child may have sustained as a result of an incident. Consider attending your doctor to have them record any injuries.
It is also important to secure and correctly store digital evidence. Creating a file on the desktop of your computer, on a flash drive or external hard drive, or storing it in an evidence app may be appropriate. You should place all evidence that you receive electronically in this file. This might include:
- Email conversations
- Screenshots of social media posts
- Downloads or screenshots of text messages
Save the evidence electronically by date for example: '22082020 – Screenshot Facebook post'. This will create an electronic list of exhibits in chronological order that depicts the sequence of events. Remember to refer to these in your notes.
Should you need to report a matter to police, you should provide them with all of the evidence you have obtained including a copy of your notes. You should keep the originals an continue to add to them if required.