Calling on COAG to put safety in family law at top of its agenda

Women’s Legal Services Australia (WLSA) has written to all state and territory leaders asking them to address safety in family law at the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) meeting tomorrow.

Family violence cannot be taken seriously without taking family law seriously. This is something that COAG – all state, territory, and federal governments – must consider and address.

One urgent priority is ending the direct cross-examination of family violence victims by their abusers in the family law system. This is something that can be changed now.

Direct cross-examination re-traumatises victims and limits evidence in relation to safety that comes before the courts. This risks court decisions being made that put children at risk of violence. Everyone knows there is no excuse for it and we are calling on all states and territories to back us up at COAG.

The family law system is full of hard working, passionate advocates and legal professionals. However, structural and institutional problems are consistently contributing to decisions that put people at increased risk of violence and abuse.

This means that when women and children flee a violent relationship, the family law system can be a hindrance rather than a help and that can result in them being placed in greater danger.

On 25 November 2016, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull was asked by Opposition Leader Bill Shorten in Parliament about how he intended to end direct cross-examination. Prime Minister Turnbull answered that “addressing domestic violence is a priority for all of us. We have to stop it. Violence against women and children is utterly unacceptable.”

It is for these very reasons that WLSA calls on all governments to work together to end direct cross-examination of vulnerable witnesses in family courts.

Measures to protect victims from direct cross examination was supported by South Australian and Victorian Premiers at the COAG family violence summit on 27-28 October 2016, as well as in recent announcements by the federal opposition leader and the Family Court on its family violence best practice principles.

Even one case of a victim being directly cross-examined, or one family in which a court doesn’t hear a victim’s concerns about the safety of children due to fear, is one too many.

See our media release on this issue here.

ALP cross-examination announcement welcome, Turnbull government must now prioritise safety in family law

Women’s Legal Services Australia (WLSA) welcomes the commitment from the federal Labor opposition to prevent domestic violence victims being cross-examined in court by their abusers in the family law system.

Protecting victims from direct cross-examination by their abusers will not only reduce trauma for those women but also improve justice outcomes for everyone involved.

With the Labor opposition and the Greens supportive of reform, action can be taken quickly if the Prime Minister and his Attorney General prioritise this.

Allowing evidence to be delivered without fear or intimidation will improve the evidence going before the courts and ensure they have all the information they need before them to make the best decisions that are safe for women and children.

While this announcement is a fantastic step in the right direction, we remain concerned that direct cross examination will still be possible if court officers are given the final say. An outright ban such as that which exists in the Victorian Family Violence Prevention Act 2008 (at sections 70 and 71) is preferable and possible.

We are calling on the entire parliament to progress the reforms identified in our 5-step plan to put safety first in family law.

How can you take action? Rosie and WLSA have developed a quick and easy form for you to send a message to the Attorney General, Prime Minister and Opposition Leader asking them to change the Family Law Act to empower victims to give evidence without fear.

Our full media release is available here.

Family violence summit: WLSA & Rosie Batty call for cross examination outcome

Women’s Legal Services Australia and Rosie Batty have called for this week’s family violence summit to address issues within the family law system that put women and children at further risk of violence.

Of particular concern is the fact that victims can still be cross examined by abusers in the system, which not only causes trauma but can impede evidence and lead to bad decisions that put children at risk.

Ms Batty has been working with Women’s Legal Services Australia to promote a 5-step plan to put safety first in family law and will attend the summit.

“I’m calling on all states and territories to help me put the cross examination of victims by abusers on the agenda at the COAG Family Violence Summit,” said Ms Batty.

“The cross examination issue is urgent and easily fixed. Women are being traumatised in the system right now and this is leading to adverse outcomes for children as well.

“There are still many issues with the family law system that put women and children in danger. But recently it’s become clear to me that this problem in particular is so urgent that we need to get focused.

“The COAG Summit is the perfect time to raise awareness of this issue. People are shocked to hear this is still going on.

Agata Wierzbowski, National Law Reform Coordinator for Women’s Legal Services Australia said:

“As the Family Law Council has stated, when people aren’t represented then family courts are less likely to get the evidence needed to keep children safe.”

“In more than half of the parenting cases that come before the family courts, one or both parties are unrepresented for some or all of the proceedings.

“Being directly questioned in court by an abusive ex-partner is not only traumatising, it can also affect the victim’s ability to give evidence clearly and accurately.

“This can prevent important information being made available to the court to protect children from violence and means dangerous decisions are being made.”

Ms Batty continued:

“Ending the cross-examination by violent ex-partners is a practical, fast step that the federal government can take immediately to empower victims to give evidence without fear.  There is no reason why we can’t extend protection to victims in the family law system as an urgent priority.

“By empowering victims to give evidence without fear, courts will be able to better detect risks of violence and keep our kids safe in family law matters.”

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.

Share this page with your friends and family.

Let’s stand with Rosie Batty

The pressure is growing on all political leaders to step up and commit to fixing the family law system. Over 10,000 people have now signed Rosie Batty’s petition calling on all political leaders to fix family law.

This morning Rosie spoke to Fran Kelly about our five step road map to safety in family law and described her own struggles in the legal system. You can listen to her interview here.

Can you stand with Rosie and take action today?

Email the Prime MinisterLeader of the Opposition and Leader of the Greens asking them to adopt the five step road map to fix family law. To help you write your email we’ve put together a sample letter and some email tips, you can read them here.

Sign the Never Alone campaign petition.

Share this page and ask your friends and family to take action as well.

To all political leaders – put safety first

So many of us have seen or heard how broken our family law system is, how it treats women and children who have fled domestic violence.  Now we have a five step road map for fixing it.

Today, Rosie Batty launched Women’s Legal Services Australia’s five step road map – Safety First in Family Law. The road map provides the solutions for a safer family law system.

Together with over 90 organisations across Australia and the Never Alone campaign, we are asking our political leaders to create a family law system that achieves justice and safety for women and children. Read our open letter.

Can you can make sure that all our political leaders commit to the five step plan?

  • Support Rosie’s call to fix the family law system and sign the Never Alone petition