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Tuesday, 7 February 2017
Page: 188

Productivity Commission Report in Access to Justice Arrangements

(Question No. 546)

Ms Butler asked the Minister representing the Attorney-General, in writing, on 7 November 2016:

In respect of its response (29 April 2016) to the Productivity Commission Report in Access to Justice Arrangements (3 December 2014), where the Government stated that the Attorney-General's Department had, in March 2016, convened a roundtable discussion with key stakeholders on the topic of cross-examination of victims of family violence in family law courts by the alleged perpetrator of the violence, and that Government was considering the outcome of that discussion,

(a) which (i) individuals, and (ii) organisations, were invited to the roundtable,

(b) what were the outcomes of that discussion; and

(c) what progress has the Government made since March 2016 in considering

the outcomes of the discussion.

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

(a) On 10 March 2016, the Attorney-General's Department hosted a roundtable with a diverse range of key stakeholders in the family law system, to discuss solutions to address issues concerning the direct cross-examination of victims of family violence be their alleged perpetrator in family law proceedings.

Roundtable attendees included judicial officers, lawyers, and advocacy and support groups. The following organisations were represented:

Attorney-General's Department

Family Court of Australia

Federal Circuit Court

Family Law Council

Law Council of Australia, Family Law Section

Magistrates Court - Domestic Violence Lists

Office of Public Prosecutions Victoria

Women's Legal Services Australia

National Legal Aid

National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Service (NATSILS)

Australian Cross Disability Alliance (ACDA)

Australian Women Against Violence Alliance (AWAVA)

The Women's Services Network

Australian Institute of Family Studies (AIFS)

No To Violence

Department of Social Services, and

Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet.

Representatives from the following organisations were invited but were unable to attend:

Family Court of Australia

Family Court of Western Australia

National Family Violence Prevention Legal Service (FVPLS) Forum, and

National Association of Community Legal Centres (NACLC)

(b) Roundtable participants contributed to the achievement of the following three outcomes:

   (i) development of a shared understanding of the issues arising from the direct cross-examination

of alleged victims of family violence by the alleged perpetrator,

   (ii) identification of the existing protections in Commonwealth, State and Territory legislation for vulnerable witnesses, and

   (iii) identification of possible solutions for short, medium or long-term implementation.

There was agreement amongst participants that a range of solutions should be considered. Potential solutions identified during the roundtable were not limited to legislative change. Some solutions proposed by participants directly address the issues relating to cross-examination of victims of family violence in the family law courts and some aim to more broadly address issues arising when family violence is alleged in family law proceedings.

(c) Over three years from 2016-19, the Government will provide $18.5 million for Legal Aid Commissions to integrate duty lawyer and domestic violence support services in the family law courts. These services will support victims to access alternative ways to give evidence and ensure their risk is assessed and managed initially and throughout the court proceedings, including by referring people for legal aid and other legal assistance.

The Government is also funding a National Domestic and Family Violence Bench Book, providing guidance for judicial officers dealing with domestic and family violence. Part 1, released on

18 August 2016, includes guidelines for court room management to minimise secondary abuse through court processes of those who have experienced family violence.

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

On 24 November 2016, the Family Court and Federal Circuit Court announced updates to the Courts' Family Violence Best Practice Principles to highlight that the victims of family violence are often traumatised and are vulnerable witnesses, and to explain the various means of protection available to judges who are hearing those cases. These principles help protect litigants and children by providing guiding principles for the case management of cases involving allegations of family violence and abuse.

The Family Court and Federal Circuit Courts have also jointly published the Family Violence Plan 2014-16, which is a commitment by the courts to the early identification and management of matters where violence, or the risk of violence, is alleged. In line with the Plan, the Courts will be implementing new screening processes to better identify issues of family violence in matters before the courts.

The Government has committed to undertaking a review of Part VII the Family Law Act. Any review should consider the structure and other key provisions of the Family Law Act, in addition to Part VII, to ensure the Act provides a framework capable of supporting families into the future.