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Tuesday, 7 February 2017
Page: 187

Family Court of Australia

(Question No. 545)

Ms Butler asked the Minister representing the Attorney-General, in writing, on

9 November 2016:

In respect of the Chief Justice of the Family Court of Australia's claim that family violence is a feature in 41 per cent of family law matters, and the situation where people accused of violence can personally cross-examine the (often unrepresented) victim, risking re-traumatisation, will the Government consider providing legislative support and legal aid funding to allow the court to require a litigant to be represented in order to cross examine another party.

Mr Keenan: - The Attorney-General has provided the following answer to the honourable member's question:

The Government acknowledges that direct cross-examination of a victim by their alleged perpetrator can be a traumatic experience.

The Family Law Act 1975 (Cth) includes protections to support vulnerable people involved in family law proceedings. For instance:

the court is required, in child-related proceedings, to conduct proceedings in a manner that safeguards the parties against family violence (subsection 69ZN(5)), and

under section 69ZX, the court can impose measures to protect vulnerable witnesses in the proceedings.

The courts can limit or prohibit cross-examination of a particular witness; enable vulnerable persons to give testimony via video or in closed court; and forbid the asking of, or excuse a witness from answering, offensive, scandalous, insulting, abusive or humiliating questions.

Over three years from 2016-19, the Government will provide $18.5 million for legal aid commissions to establish integrated duty lawyer and family violence support services in family law court registries. These services will support victims to access alternative ways to give evidence and ensure their risk is assessed and managed throughout the court proceedings, including by referring people for legal aid and other legal assistance.

The Government has commissioned a National Domestic and Family Violence Bench Book. The Bench Book is a comprehensive online resource for judicial officers in all Australian jurisdictions, to promote best practice and consistency in judicial decision making in cases involving family violence. Part 1, released in August 2016, includes guidelines for court room management to minimise secondary abuse through court processes of those who have experienced family violence. The final part is expected to be released by June 2017, and will cover a range of family law and criminal law issues.

Complementing the Bench Book, the Government is funding national training for judicial officers about the dynamics of family violence.

The Government continuously monitors the family law system, and has committed to undertaking a review of Part VII of the Family Law Act, together with broader issues about the operation of the family law system as a whole.