On 30 March 2016, Australia’s first Royal Commission into family violence was released. The Report made 227 comprehensive recommendations about how to prevent and respond to the issue of family violence. Whilst the Report was produced in Victoria, there have been calls to adopt the recommendations nationwide.
The recommendations of the Royal Commission which are relevant to and may affect the practice of family law include:
- The establishment of ‘safety hubs’ designed as local entry points for both victims and perpetrators of family violence to access services such as support programs and emergency housing.
- The creation of a specialist family violence Court to hear matters. The proposal being that the specialist family violence Court would be multi-faceted and hear family, criminal and civil matters. The recommendation goes further and suggests that judicial court lists be capped and staggered to overcome the deterioration of service experienced in heavy Court lists and reduce waiting time.
- The Report recommended simplified Court documentation.
- In addressing the Court, the Report recommended greater availability and accessibility to legal services and an improvement in facilities and infrastructure in the Court to promote victim safety, for example by having separate waiting rooms for victims.
- To change the Court’s approach to responding to perpetrators of family violence. This is because the Report recognises that gaol time does little to prevent or deter offending. As an early intervention tool, the Report suggests the Court could consider the alternatives of behavioural programs and counselling for perpetrators.
- Information sharing across the various local, state and federal services which would ensure that information regarding a victim and perpetrator would readily be available to those charged with the obligation of ensuring victim safety.
There are merits in the recommendation for a specialist Court. Centralised information sharing would allow the judicial officer to have access to all relevant information to determine a matter. Staggered and capped lists would promote quality and attention to detail. Finally, a specialised Court would allow a person to have all of their legal issues determined in one Court, alleviating the need for a party to have to repeat evidence of family violence.
However, the current system lacks adequate Government funding which has resulted in overwhelmed registries. It remains to be seen whether the Commission’s recommendations will be supported by the legislative and financial backing it requires from the Federal Government in order to create the systemic change and response to family violence that the Commission proposes to achieve.
You can read the full report at: http://www.rcfv.com.au/Report-Recommendations
If you or someone you know is a victim of family violence, call the National Sexual Assault, Domestic Violence Counselling Service on 1800 737 732.
We have practitioners who have experience in matters involving family violence, please call 02 4929 3995 if you require legal assistance.
By Kristie Lear