Many miss out on critical legal help in overburdened family violence system

Many miss out on critical legal help in overburdened family violence system

Tuesday, 16 June 2015

Legal assistance is critical to prevent family violence and stop it from escalating but many people are missing out on the help they need, says Victoria Legal Aid’s submission to the Royal Commission into Family Violence.

Victoria Legal Aid Managing Director Bevan Warner says the submission details an overburdened system with courts, legal assistance and support services urgently needing increased long term investment.

‘Providing timely legal help for victims and perpetrators is critical to prevent family violence and stop it from escalating but we know many people are not getting the legal help or protection they need and feel let down by the system,’ he says.

‘Legal help enables victims to secure orders that protect their families and allows them to feel supported and heard throughout the court process.

‘It holds perpetrators to account and ensures they understand their behaviour is unlawful and can be referred to services such as behavioural change, mental health and addiction programs.

‘We know that when perpetrators receive legal advice they are more likely to understand an order and comply with it and this helps keep other family members safe.’

Victoria Legal Aid is the largest provider of family violence legal help – providing family violence services to approximately equal numbers of women and men.

The submission describes Victoria Legal Aid’s family violence duty lawyer service as being at saturation point and struggling to meet demand.

It estimates that in 2013–14, our duty lawyers assisted in less than a third of the intervention order applications finalised by the Magistrates’ Court.

Mr Warner said people experiencing family violence often also needed help with issues other than intervention orders, such as family law, child protection, fines or child support payments.

‘We need to spend more time helping people solve these complex problems to ensure that the right legal referrals are made and that they are linked with the support services they need.’

The submission makes more than 30 recommendations including:

  • a new and more effective approach to dealing with the serious issue of violence committed by children and young people at home, to help protect families and deal with the problem
  • increased funding for legal assistance to enable Victoria Legal Aid, community legal centres and private lawyers to meet the growing demand for family violence help
  • improving court safety, appointing applicant and respondent workers at all Magistrates’ Courts and continuing specialist training for all Magistrates and court staff
  • increasing the availability of behavioural change, mental health, drug and alcohol programs
  • treating family violence as seriously as other offences and holding perpetrators accountable through existing criminal laws.

Read our Submission to the Royal Commission into Family Violence (docx, 218.94 KB) to see a full list of recommendations. 

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