Women’s Legal Services Australia Welcomes Announcement of Funding for New Family Violence and Cross-Examination Scheme

Women’s Legal Services Australia welcomes the recent announcement by the Morrison Government for $7 million of new ongoing funding for legal aid commissions to fund the new Family Violence and Cross Examination of Parties scheme.

It is anticipated the scheme will outline how the proposed legislative changes in the Family Law Amendment (Family Violence and Cross-examination of Parties) Bill 2018 will work in practice. The Bill aims to ban family violence perpetrators from being able to directly cross-examine their victim-survivors in the family courts. This would bring the family court more in line with protections already available to family violence victim-survivors in most state based courts.

We welcome the Senate’s passing of The Bill.

Cross-examination is the legal process by which evidence put before the Court can be tested. It is essential that evidence to be relied on by the family courts in decisions where there is family violence can be tested but in a way which is safe for all family members concerned. These reforms are an important step towards making the family law system more trauma informed and bringing it into line with measures already available to protect women who have experienced violence in the family violence jurisdictions in some states.

Separate and ongoing funding stream was (and remains) critical to the scheme’s success.

Angela Lynch, CEO of Women’s Legal Service Queensland and Spokesperson for WLSA said:

“The ban on cross-examination is one of the key priority areas WLSA has campaigned for as part of its Safety First in Family Law Campaign”.

“The success of the bill was always going to be dependent on adequate funding for legal services, to ensure that both the victim and the perpetrator can have a legal representative to act on their behalf, and the ability of the courts to identify and respond in a trauma informed way to family violence in any given case.”

“The news of the Bill’s passage through the Senate, the establishment of the Scheme and the announcement of separate and ongoing funding is strongly welcomed and is an important step forward in increasing safety for women in the family court system”.

Read our full media release here.

ALRC Review of the Family Law System

Women’s Legal Services Australia (WLSA) has made a submission in response to the Australian Law Reform Commission’s (ALRC) Review of the Family Law System Discussion Paper.  In this submission, we consider proposals made by the ALRC to improve the family law system and make it safer for family violence victim-survivors and their children.

We support several of the proposals discussed in the ALRC Discussion Paper. We note the 2014 Productivity Commission recommendation to increase legal assistance funding in civil law, including family law, by an additional $200 million a year, and we highlight the need for any future changes to the family law system to be adequately resourced.

We continue to call for the family law system to prioritise safety and we discuss the importance of putting safeguards in place for victim-survivors to ensure their safety and the safety of their children.

We also continue to advocate for greater accessibility to the family law system and for better recognition and understanding of diversity. We highlight the importance of the family law system being family violence, child abuse and trauma informed; culturally competent; and disability aware.

Read the WLSA submission to the ALRC here.

Women’s Legal Services Australia Urges the Government to Extend Reporting Period before Dismantling Family Court

Women’s Legal Services Australia (WLSA) is deeply concerned that the Coalition Government is rushing the recent Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia Bill and the accompanying consequential amendments bill through parliament without proper consideration about the impact of those changes to the safety of family violence victim-survivors and their children.

Together with the Law Council and other key stakeholders, WLSA calls for the government’s reporting period to be extended to allow for changes to the family court structure to be informed by the Australian Law Reform Commission’s Family Law Review and following proper consultation with the community.

WLSA fears the changes which will dismantle the Family Law Court and adopt a generalist court structure will result in a diminution of expertise in the family law system and may increase risk of harm for family violence victim-survivors and their children.

WLSA is further concerned that the changes don’t address the underlying problem of chronic underfunding that has long plagued the family law system.

Angela Lynch, CEO of Women’s Legal Service QLD and WLSA spokesperson, said “We are concerned these changes are being rushed through parliament without proper consultation with family violence experts and victim-survivors in order to understand exactly what the changes will mean for the safety of families experiencing family violence. Providing only a number of weeks for stakeholders to review the most significant overhaul of the family law system in 40 years is grossly insufficient and dangerous.”

“The ALRC Review commissioned by the government provides a unique opportunity for the family law system to be re-designed in consultation with the community and key stakeholders, including victim-survivors of family violence. We fear that rushing the changes through before hearing the outcomes of this Review will result in a piecemeal approach that does not take the needs of family violence victim-survivors and their families into account.”

Read our full media release here

Women’s Legal Services Australia says Specialisation in Family Law is Integral to Women and Children’s Safety in the Family Law Court System

Women’s Legal Services Australia (WLSA) has concerns about the impacts on safety from the proposed dismantling of the family law court for domestic violence victims and their children.

WLSA acknowledges there are longstanding issues and concerns about the Family Court’s responsiveness to domestic violence cases and has advocated for years to change to this.  However, the reality is that moves to a more generalist court could make matters much worse for domestic violence survivors in the family courts.

WLSA is also concerned about the proposed removal of family law appeals from the Family Court appeals division where they are currently heard to the generalist Federal Court.

Specialisation is fundamental for the safe resolution of the large number of family law matters involving domestic violence that proceed through the courts.

Angela Lynch, CEO of Women’s Legal Service QLD and WLSA spokesperson said “We should be enhancing and building on current family law specialisation with increased and specialised responses to domestic violence and abuse in family law and not reducing it.”

WLSA calls for legislative protection of specialisation in family law and for the establishment of a domestic violence court pathway in the family law system to better respond to risk and safety issues.

The need for specialist knowledge and skills in dealing with family law matters has already been recognised by the Federal Government in the recent parent management hearings bill currently before parliament, where decision makers in this new program are required to have expertise in these areas. At the same time the Federal Government appears to be reducing such specialisation in the court system.

We caution that any change to the family law court system must be supported by increased resources across the board and inclusive of women’s legal services and other similar agencies, in order for it to be successful.

WLSA is concerned by the lack of a comprehensive consultation process that hears directly from victim-survivors to inform the proposed changes to the court system.

The current ALRC Family Law Inquiry provides a unique opportunity for the family law system to be re-designed. To ensure that family law reform is not piecemeal and is informed by the findings of the ALRC Inquiry we urge the Government to postpone any changes to the structure of the family law courts to after the ALRC Inquiry.

Read our full media release here.

Bipartisan support shown for Safety in Family Law

This morning all political leaders from all major parties joined Rosie Batty and Women’s Legal Services Australia to raise concerns about safety in family law.

The federal minister for women, Senator Michaelia Cash, shadow minister for women, Senator Clare Moore and the leader of the Australian Greens, Senator Richard Di Natale, were delivered a petition by Rosie Batty calling for reform to the family law system with over 21,000 signatures from across Australia.

The Chief Justice of the Family Court Ms Diana Bryant AO also spoke in support of the plan but called on government to make the investment necessary to put the plan into action, without this additional funding, she said, support for the plan would simply be ’empty rhetoric’.

You can read about Women’s Legal Services Australia’s plan to prioritise safety in the family law system here and sign up to the never alone petition here.

You can support the campaign today by sharing our media release.

Greens adopt our five step Safety First in Family Law plan

In the last week we have seen the Greens announce their domestic violence policy, adopting our five step Safety First in Family Law plan in its entirety.

Our plan is supported by over 90 organisations who have signed our open letter to all major political parties and former Australian of the Year Rosie Batty who is campaigning in support of the plan.

The announcement from the Greens is a huge win for the Safety First in Family Law campaign and it increases pressure on the Prime Minister as well as the Opposition leader to step up and commit to the plan to make women and children safe in the family law system.

Read our media release here.

Will you stand with us?

You can join the campaign by emailing the Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition asking them to adopt the five step road map to fix family law. We’ve put together a sample letter and some email tips, you can read them here.

Sign the Never Alone campaign petition.

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