Family Violence Royal Commission gets regional perspective

fed up womanLoddon Campaspe CLC was established in 2005 after a sustained campaign by EASE (now the Centre for Non-Violence), the Centre Against Sexual Assault (Loddon Campaspe) and the Advocacy and Rights Centre (now trading as ARC Justice). These services recognised that legal assistance for women experiencing family violence was a critical issue in our community.

Since our establishment, family violence has grown from around one third to almost 50% of our current caseload. Hence, we welcomed the recent opportunity to make a submission to the Victorian Royal Commission into Family Violence.

Our submission was informed by our practice in the family violence jurisdiction and by the experiences of Central Victorian women who contributed to our recently published report Will somebody listen to me? (submitted to the Royal Commission when it sat in Bendigo on the 5th of May this year).

Many of the women who contributed to Will somebody listen to me? told us that they wanted to play a role in monitoring and evaluating the justice system’s response to family violence and to participate in the training of police, court staff and service providers to ensure that they heard first-hand from affected women about their needs. They also wanted:

  • to participate in decision making, to be well informed and to understand the justice system and its processes, and for justice to be affordable and accessible
  • to be heard and empowered to speak their truth and to define what safety and justice meant to them
  • their feelings, behaviour and experiences to be understood and believed and not to be judged or made to feel ashamed
  • the offender to acknowledge the harm he had caused, to apologise, to change his behaviour and for the community and the justice system to monitor his behaviour and hold him accountable, and
  • the justice system to be the beginning of the process, not the end, and to allow women and their children and their community to heal.

In some cases, women felt that these outcomes may be achieved through a restorative justice approach that allowed women to feel safe, supported and empowered, similar perhaps to some of the victim-led approaches canvassed in the recent Centre for Innovative Justice report on restorative processes and family violence.

The women who contributed to our report frequently reported:

  • inconsistent responses from police and/or low accountability with respect to allegations of intervention order breaches
  • poor understanding of the legal pathways in relation to family violence
  • inconsistent support from community agencies (including legal support)
  • concerns about privacy and safety at court
  • inadequate monitoring of the system and failures not being addressed or taken seriously.

Our submission noted that without dedicated family violence funding beyond June 2015 we would be forced to scale back our free family violence duty lawyer service from seven to three local Magistrates’ Courts.

We repeated assertions, made over several years, that infrastructure at several local courts such as Kyneton no longer met the needs of women experiencing family violence: waiting rooms are cramped or non-existent and the privacy and safety of women are frequently compromised.

We noted the lack of local support and referral services for people responding to intervention order applications (primarily men) and the limited access for men in our region to Men’s Behaviour Change programs such as that operated by the Centre for Non-Violence.

As lawyers, we were keen to draw the Royal Commission’s attention to a number of procedural and administrative issues at local courts, for example the failure to prioritise family violence matters despite the volatility of these matters, the ongoing need for the training of Magistrates’ and court staff around the risks faced by women experiencing family violence, the need for better provision of relevant information to applicants about available services and supports and the legal process, access to mediation for family violence matters, and access to remote witness facilities at courts beyond Bendigo.

Given our positive experience with the provision of training to health practitioners, we called for an extension of this training so that local health practitioners can better understand the impact of family violence on patient wellbeing, referral pathways and the value of intervention orders to patient safety.

Our submission also called for changes to the Family Violence Protection Act 2008 to allow for women to speak openly about their experiences and to call for improvements to the system.

To read our full submission, please click here.

 

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