Victoria Legal Aid welcomes Royal Commission recommendations on expanded family violence courts

Victoria Legal Aid welcomes Royal Commission recommendations on expanded family violence courts

Wednesday, 30 March 2016

Victoria Legal Aid has welcomed the Royal Commission into Family Violence’s recommendations for the expansion of specialist family violence courts across Victoria, which will help to break the tragic cycle of family violence.

‘This is a landmark report which paints a compelling picture of the experiences of people in the justice system, and sets out a comprehensive agenda for a new approach to family violence,’ said Nicole Rich, Victoria Legal Aid’s Executive Director Family, Youth and Children’s Law.

‘We strongly support the recommendation that specialist family violence courts be expanded, and that courts be upgraded with separate entry and exit points and safe waiting rooms. These steps will lead to a safer, more effective and co-ordinated approach to family violence.

‘The proposal for a daily co-ordination meeting in family violence court lists, so that high risk cases are flagged, interpreters are organised, and legal representation organised, will mean a much less chaotic, safer and more streamlined environment for family violence hearings.’

Ms Rich said that other significant recommendations would strengthen requirements for information sharing between state and Commonwealth courts, child protection authorities and police where children are at risk. 

‘Unfortunately, too often courts have been unaware that there is a past family violence issue in cases before them. Improved information sharing will keep children safer.’

Ms Rich said that Victoria Legal Aid also welcomed moves to recognise the role of family violence in financial hardship, debt and the accumulation of traffic fines. ‘Being caught up in a violent ex-partner’s debt, or being held responsible for their fines, are factors that often trap victims further as they attempt to build new lives.

‘The Commission has recommended a range of measures that would mean family violence is specifically recognised as a factor to be considered by energy providers, telecommunications services and the infringements system.’

Ms Rich said that many of the Commission’s 227 recommendations would have significant resourcing implications for Victoria Legal Aid, the largest provider of legal services to people with family violence problems, as well as community legal centres and aboriginal legal services, and extra investment would be needed.

‘An example is the recommendation that police keep in touch with both victims and perpetrators in the 14 day period between when the police issue a family violence safety notice and when the matter comes to court for an intervention order, and refer them to our Legal Help phone line.

‘While we agree this early legal support is vital, it is likely to lead to a big increase in the number of calls and referrals for legal advice, and we and other legal service providers will need to be able to meet that demand.’

Ms Rich said the impact on duty lawyer services would also need to be considered. ‘At present, less than four in ten people get assistance at court with their legal problems, and the Commission recognised the system has been overburdened and under-resourced. The Commission’s findings will have a further impact on that capacity.’

‘We are looking forward to working with the courts, government and other stakeholders to ensure that the full potential of the Commission’s reforms can be realised.’

More information

Our submission made 35 recommendations for improving the legal response to family violence and maximising the effectiveness of legal services and court intervention to interrupt the cycle of violence. Read our submission.

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