Family violence and the court system



Roundtable outcomes

The Summit roundtables identified a number of key insights and suggested actions, summarised below.

Key insights identified by roundtable participants

Five priorities for reform were agreed:

  1. Protecting victims through all court proceedings, including by imposing a bar on direct examination by perpetrators in any family law or family violence proceedings wherever they are. This includes giving victims the ability to give evidence remotely or by alternate means, and funding for adequate legal assistance in all jurisdictions.

  2. Victims only having to tell their story once throughout their court journey, with technology employed to assist them to do so (including video statement evidence).

  3. Sharing all court orders relevant to a family between the federal and state family law, child protection and family violence systems.

  4. National consistency of key concepts and tools, including a common, dynamic risk assessment framework, shared family violence literacy and common definitions including family violence and best interests of child.

  5. Putting children front and centre; reviewing family law processes to ensure that parental entitlement is not prioritised over the best interests of the child. This includes review of Part VII of the Family Law Act 1975.

A number of contributions to the online roundtables have also been received. Those contributions are still being reviewed but some of the main themes and ideas highlighted include:

  • There should be national court systems that deal specifically with domestic and family violence.

  • There should be better integration of different courts and a better interface with the child protection system and the police.

  • Courts should not retraumatise children.

  • Children should have a say in decisions, and their safety should be prioritised over contact arrangements.

  • “Continuity of service” with a single lawyer who acts for the victim through all legal issues and court proceedings, is a best practice model to follow.

  • Training of the judiciary, court staff and legal profession is needed to increase awareness and understanding of domestic and family violence.

  • Court access needs to be improved for culturally and linguistically diverse groups, and people with disability.

  • Direct cross-examination in the family law system should be eliminated.


Discussion paper authored by Victoria in preparation for COAG National Summit


Background


The intersection of the Commonwealth family law system and the state and territory child protection and family violence systems can give rise to confusion for those families navigating between them. Many reviews and inquiries have made recommendations to improve the interface between these systems, yet this continues to be an area requiring critical attention and reform. Improving the intersection between the family law, child protection and family violence systems will require significant coordination and collaboration between jurisdictions.

For women and children affected by family violence, their first interaction with the court system may be through a state-based court with responsibility for protection orders and criminal matters. A later interaction, in the event of a separation with a violent partner, will likely be with the federal family law system – which assists separating or separated couples to manage disputes about a range of issues, including property and parenting issues. Another possible interaction may be with the child protection system, in the event that there are concerns that a child of the relationship is at risk of harm. People may be either involved in concurrent or sequential court proceedings. The safety of women and their children can be at risk as they seek assistance through the different regimes of state and federal family violence, child protection and family law jurisdictions.

These issues are very real for women and their children, as recounted to Victoria’s Royal Commission into Family Violence:

Police intervention orders are somehow handled separately from magistrates’ intervention orders, which are … handled separately from family court orders. Psychological … assessments of both [Removed] and her children, obtained for one court, are not presentable in the next court … Imagine getting [Removed] children, traumatised and intimidated by their father, to again and again re-tell their story.[1]

This round-table discussion will focus on the practices of the various court systems and the experience of users. It will examine what can be done to ensure the safety and reduce the confusion experienced by women and children as they navigate court systems, and ensure that court systems consistently contribute to improved safety for women and children.[*]

Issues

It is critical that women affected by family violence understand the nature of court orders that apply to them, and that judicial officers, court and legal staff and support services are well equipped to assist with this. The level of understanding that women have about court orders applying to them can be heavily influenced by the culture, practice and individual approach of legal professionals. In this regard, various forms of professional development support and training can assist to ensure that legal professionals operating in the court jurisdictions dealing with family violence are better equipped to assist women and children.

It is also important that there is a continued focus on collaboration and integration between the various courts. Courts are often difficult to navigate, can be expensive and slow, and there is no overall co-ordination to assist women and children affected by family violence when they move from one system to another. Swift resolution of these issues is critical to ensure the safety of women and children. Stakeholder meetings and memoranda of understanding between the various court systems as well as co-location of agencies can assist with integration. The use of common language between systems and across jurisdictions is also important as is, of course, prioritising the sharing of information between court systems. Information sharing also reduces the duplication of expert reports, which have resource implications.

Other issues include how to improve and streamline the pathway through support services and court systems for women and children impacted by family violence. Those impacted by family violence often have to repeat information about family violence incidents in multiple jurisdictions and information about orders in place in one system is not regularly relayed to the other systems. This leads to duplication and a perceived delay in resolving care arrangements. It is important that there be a strong focus on effective case management for those most at risk, including an emphasis on triaging and early decision making.

More information:

Australian Institute of Family Studies 2015, Evaluation of the 2012 family violence amendments: Synthesis report, https://aifs.gov.au/publications/evaluation-2012-family-violence-amendments/acknowledgements

Australia’s National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety Limited 2015, The PATRICIA Project: PAThways in Research In Collaborative Inter-Agency working: State of knowledge paper, http://anrows.org.au/publications/landscapes/domestic-and-family-violence-protection-orders-in-australia-investigation

Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet 2016, COAG Advisory Panel on Reducing Violence against Women and their Children – Final Report, https://www.coag.gov.au/sites/default/files/files/COAGAdvisoryPanelonReducingViolenceagainstWomenandtheirChildren-FinalReport.pdf

Special Taskforce on Domestic and Family Violence in Queensland 2015, Not Now, Not Ever. Putting an End to Domestic and Family Violence in Queensland, https://www.qld.gov.au/community/documents/getting-support-health-social-issue/dfv-report-vol-one.pdf

Women’s Legal Services Australia 2016, Safety First in family law, https://safetyinfamilylaw.org.au/

State of Victoria (March 2016) Royal Commission into Family Violence: Report and recommendations, Vol IV, Chapter 24, Parl Paper No 132, http://www.rcfv.com.au/MediaLibraries/RCFamilyViolence/Reports/Final/RCFV-Vol-IV.pdf


[*] It is noted that necessary legislative amendments to deal with inconsistencies between the systems, while also of critical importance, have been extensively considered in other fora and are not intended to be a key focus of the round-table discussion.


[1] State of Victoria 2016, Royal Commission into Family Violence: Report and recommendations,Vol IV, http://www.rcfv.com.au/MediaLibraries/RCFamilyViolence/Reports/Final/RCFV-Vol-VI.pdf



Discussion questions


  • How can we reduce the confusion experienced by women and children impacted by family violence as they navigate the family law, family violence, and child protection court systems
  • How could the federal and state and territory systems simplify or better coordinate processes to ensure that our court systems keep women and children safe? What areas should be focused on for early process improvement?
  • What are the key priorities for action in relation to improving the safety of families in family law matters?



Contribute to the online roundtable discussion about family violence and the court system

We want to hear your thoughts about family violence and the court system.

You can submit your ideas using the form below. For more information please see the About the Summit page or About online roundtables.







Roundtable outcomes

The Summit roundtables identified a number of key insights and suggested actions, summarised below.

Key insights identified by roundtable participants

Five priorities for reform were agreed:

  1. Protecting victims through all court proceedings, including by imposing a bar on direct examination by perpetrators in any family law or family violence proceedings wherever they are. This includes giving victims the ability to give evidence remotely or by alternate means, and funding for adequate legal assistance in all jurisdictions.

  2. Victims only having to tell their story once throughout their court journey, with technology employed to assist them to do so (including video statement evidence).

  3. Sharing all court orders relevant to a family between the federal and state family law, child protection and family violence systems.

  4. National consistency of key concepts and tools, including a common, dynamic risk assessment framework, shared family violence literacy and common definitions including family violence and best interests of child.

  5. Putting children front and centre; reviewing family law processes to ensure that parental entitlement is not prioritised over the best interests of the child. This includes review of Part VII of the Family Law Act 1975.

A number of contributions to the online roundtables have also been received. Those contributions are still being reviewed but some of the main themes and ideas highlighted include:

  • There should be national court systems that deal specifically with domestic and family violence.

  • There should be better integration of different courts and a better interface with the child protection system and the police.

  • Courts should not retraumatise children.

  • Children should have a say in decisions, and their safety should be prioritised over contact arrangements.

  • “Continuity of service” with a single lawyer who acts for the victim through all legal issues and court proceedings, is a best practice model to follow.

  • Training of the judiciary, court staff and legal profession is needed to increase awareness and understanding of domestic and family violence.

  • Court access needs to be improved for culturally and linguistically diverse groups, and people with disability.

  • Direct cross-examination in the family law system should be eliminated.


Discussion paper authored by Victoria in preparation for COAG National Summit


Background


The intersection of the Commonwealth family law system and the state and territory child protection and family violence systems can give rise to confusion for those families navigating between them. Many reviews and inquiries have made recommendations to improve the interface between these systems, yet this continues to be an area requiring critical attention and reform. Improving the intersection between the family law, child protection and family violence systems will require significant coordination and collaboration between jurisdictions.

For women and children affected by family violence, their first interaction with the court system may be through a state-based court with responsibility for protection orders and criminal matters. A later interaction, in the event of a separation with a violent partner, will likely be with the federal family law system – which assists separating or separated couples to manage disputes about a range of issues, including property and parenting issues. Another possible interaction may be with the child protection system, in the event that there are concerns that a child of the relationship is at risk of harm. People may be either involved in concurrent or sequential court proceedings. The safety of women and their children can be at risk as they seek assistance through the different regimes of state and federal family violence, child protection and family law jurisdictions.

These issues are very real for women and their children, as recounted to Victoria’s Royal Commission into Family Violence:

Police intervention orders are somehow handled separately from magistrates’ intervention orders, which are … handled separately from family court orders. Psychological … assessments of both [Removed] and her children, obtained for one court, are not presentable in the next court … Imagine getting [Removed] children, traumatised and intimidated by their father, to again and again re-tell their story.[1]

This round-table discussion will focus on the practices of the various court systems and the experience of users. It will examine what can be done to ensure the safety and reduce the confusion experienced by women and children as they navigate court systems, and ensure that court systems consistently contribute to improved safety for women and children.[*]

Issues

It is critical that women affected by family violence understand the nature of court orders that apply to them, and that judicial officers, court and legal staff and support services are well equipped to assist with this. The level of understanding that women have about court orders applying to them can be heavily influenced by the culture, practice and individual approach of legal professionals. In this regard, various forms of professional development support and training can assist to ensure that legal professionals operating in the court jurisdictions dealing with family violence are better equipped to assist women and children.

It is also important that there is a continued focus on collaboration and integration between the various courts. Courts are often difficult to navigate, can be expensive and slow, and there is no overall co-ordination to assist women and children affected by family violence when they move from one system to another. Swift resolution of these issues is critical to ensure the safety of women and children. Stakeholder meetings and memoranda of understanding between the various court systems as well as co-location of agencies can assist with integration. The use of common language between systems and across jurisdictions is also important as is, of course, prioritising the sharing of information between court systems. Information sharing also reduces the duplication of expert reports, which have resource implications.

Other issues include how to improve and streamline the pathway through support services and court systems for women and children impacted by family violence. Those impacted by family violence often have to repeat information about family violence incidents in multiple jurisdictions and information about orders in place in one system is not regularly relayed to the other systems. This leads to duplication and a perceived delay in resolving care arrangements. It is important that there be a strong focus on effective case management for those most at risk, including an emphasis on triaging and early decision making.

More information:

Australian Institute of Family Studies 2015, Evaluation of the 2012 family violence amendments: Synthesis report, https://aifs.gov.au/publications/evaluation-2012-family-violence-amendments/acknowledgements

Australia’s National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety Limited 2015, The PATRICIA Project: PAThways in Research In Collaborative Inter-Agency working: State of knowledge paper, http://anrows.org.au/publications/landscapes/domestic-and-family-violence-protection-orders-in-australia-investigation

Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet 2016, COAG Advisory Panel on Reducing Violence against Women and their Children – Final Report, https://www.coag.gov.au/sites/default/files/files/COAGAdvisoryPanelonReducingViolenceagainstWomenandtheirChildren-FinalReport.pdf

Special Taskforce on Domestic and Family Violence in Queensland 2015, Not Now, Not Ever. Putting an End to Domestic and Family Violence in Queensland, https://www.qld.gov.au/community/documents/getting-support-health-social-issue/dfv-report-vol-one.pdf

Women’s Legal Services Australia 2016, Safety First in family law, https://safetyinfamilylaw.org.au/

State of Victoria (March 2016) Royal Commission into Family Violence: Report and recommendations, Vol IV, Chapter 24, Parl Paper No 132, http://www.rcfv.com.au/MediaLibraries/RCFamilyViolence/Reports/Final/RCFV-Vol-IV.pdf


[*] It is noted that necessary legislative amendments to deal with inconsistencies between the systems, while also of critical importance, have been extensively considered in other fora and are not intended to be a key focus of the round-table discussion.


[1] State of Victoria 2016, Royal Commission into Family Violence: Report and recommendations,Vol IV, http://www.rcfv.com.au/MediaLibraries/RCFamilyViolence/Reports/Final/RCFV-Vol-VI.pdf



Discussion questions


  • How can we reduce the confusion experienced by women and children impacted by family violence as they navigate the family law, family violence, and child protection court systems
  • How could the federal and state and territory systems simplify or better coordinate processes to ensure that our court systems keep women and children safe? What areas should be focused on for early process improvement?
  • What are the key priorities for action in relation to improving the safety of families in family law matters?



Contribute to the online roundtable discussion about family violence and the court system

We want to hear your thoughts about family violence and the court system.

You can submit your ideas using the form below. For more information please see the About the Summit page or About online roundtables.





  • Share your views

    Please limit your submission to 300 words. You are also welcome to upload videos or sound recordings.

    Your views may be presented to Summit participants in summary, in part or in full. They may also be used in any publication produced by the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, or the Queensland Department of the Premier and Cabinet following the Summit.

    Please limit your submission to 300 words. You are also welcome to upload videos or sound recordings.

    Your views may be presented to Summit participants in summary, in part or in full. They may also be used in any publication produced by the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, or the Queensland Department of the Premier and Cabinet following the Summit.

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