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The court is often a crucial part of a victim survivor’s journey when seeking protection from family violence. The court system is being transformed to make it safer for victim survivors and families. This will ensure people have the support they need, including supporting respondents to change their behaviour.
We are also working to make courts accessible, so our diverse Victorian community has equal access to justice.
Specialist Family Violence Courts are the centrepiece of family violence reforms to the courts system.
These courts provide a trauma-informed response to family violence. They give victim survivors more choice over their court experience. They also provide greater access to support services that help victim survivors at court and beyond.
The work occurring through the Rolling Action Plan focuses on:
- strengthening court reforms
- improving services to keep victim survivors and families safe through the court system
- holding perpetrators of family violence to account.
This work also continues to develop and refine technology-driven initiatives, building on recent experience from the COVID-19 pandemic.
What has happened
The establishment of Specialist Family Violence Courts creates a shift in our approach to addressing family violence.
These courts are carefully designed to provide greater security, comfort and choice for people experiencing family violence.
A team of specially trained magistrates, operational staff and family violence practitioners ensure that the local community can access tailored and effective family violence services.
Specialist magistrates have the power to mandate counselling, such as Men's Behaviour Change Programs.
This helps to promote women’s and children’s safety by holding men accountable and supporting positive behaviour change.
Establishing Specialist Family Violence Courts was a key activity during 2020 and 2021. This includes:
- Specialist Family Violence Courts established at the Moorabbin, Heidelberg and Frankston Magistrates’ Courts. We now have five Specialist Family Violence Courts with Shepparton and Ballarat Magistrates’ Courts operational since 2019
- planning commenced for Bendigo and Wyndham Magistrates’ Courts as well as for a further seven Specialist Family Violence Courts following the announcement of additional funding in the 2021–22 state budget. These additional sites are Melbourne, Broadmeadows, Dandenong, Geelong, Latrobe Valley, Ringwood and Sunshine Magistrates’ Courts.
- family violence training delivered to members of the judiciary, specialist and non-specialist court staff, and local agencies at each of the five existing Specialist Family Violence Courts. This included a comprehensive induction package for court staff. It also included multidisciplinary training involving court staff and sector workers. This training supports an integrated working model and consistent messaging and approach
- the Court Mandated Counselling Order Program is now operational at the Specialist Family Violence Courts to keep more perpetrators accountable and support them to change their behaviour. The 2021–22 state budget outcome supports further delivery of the program to more headquarter court locations.
- all current Specialist Family Violence Courts are supported by the Family Violence Contact Centre, in addition to a further five courts. The Family Violence Contact Centre is an offsite, centralised service that manages phone calls and emails from court users relating to family violence and personal safety intervention orders. This service alleviates daily call and email pressures at individual courts. It also improves accessibility of court services for people experiencing family violence.
Specialist Family Violence Courts transforming the court experience for victim survivors of family violence
Sam* and her former partner John* came to court both before and after the gazettal of the new Specialist Family Violence Court.
Several years ago, Sam applied for a family violence intervention order at the court’s old building. Sam later reported feeling uncomfortable with the process and did not feel safe in the old building.
Sam was interviewed at the front counter in front of everybody. When she needed to access the female amenities, she had to walk past everybody in the foyer. She felt intimidated and scared about coming to court. On the hearing day, the respondent was sitting across the room from Sam, both in the foyer and during the court hearing.
A couple of years later, the court is now a Specialist Family Violence Court.
Sam rang the court and enquired about applying for a new family violence intervention order. Sam was nervous about the process, but this time, she had access to the specialist court team. They made sure Sam felt safe and supported throughout the process.
When Sam attended court to make her application, court staff reassured her she would not have any contact with the respondent. She was given a tour of the safe waiting area. This helped relieve Sam’s anxiety about attending court.
On the hearing day, Sam was referred to the Applicant Practitioner for support and to a duty lawyer for legal advice before her hearing. She appeared from behind a screen in the court room and did not see or have any contact with the respondent at all.
Sam’s former partner was referred to the Respondent Practitioner as well as a duty lawyer who provided him with information and support, as well as referrals to local family violence agencies.
The Applicant Practitioner followed up with Sam a couple of weeks after her court appearance and she provided positive feedback about the improvements in her court journey this time around at the court now operating as a Specialist Family Violence Court.
*Names have been changed
- During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Magistrates’ Court of Victoria continued to hear family violence matters online, with high-risk and urgent matters prioritised.
- The new family violence intervention order online form was fast-tracked in 2020. This allows applicants to apply online. The online form and online hearings have been important in ensuring continuity of access to justice.
- The Children's Court of Victoria prioritised online hearings during the COVID-19 pandemic. Where appropriate, family violence practitioners and court support coordinators ensured victims survivors can safely navigate and participate in remote hearings and access necessary support services.
- The use of online hearings and remote service delivery has been accelerated during the pandemic, with supported remote hearings expanding to 10 new locations in 2022, and audiovisual linkage available at all locations.
- The Melbourne Children's Court is exploring how court attendant safety plans can be redeveloped to promote the safety of victim survivors in online hearings. Previously, these plans supported vulnerable victims survivors physically attending proceedings.
- A family violence training program for court interpreters is being delivered through Monash University. Eighty interpreters are expected to complete the course in the first year.
- An innovative pilot program for family violence respondents commenced at Ballarat Magistrates’ Court in 2021. The Integrated Counselling and Case Management program provides targeted intervention services to respondents with mental health, alcohol or other drugs issues. This prepares them for group-based counselling to address their use of violence.
- The Pre-Court Engagement and Resolution Pilot supports court users to access pre-court legal referrals across seven court sites. Court users may also be referred to court family violence practitioners, including specialist LGBTIQ+ and Umalek Balit practitioners, and interpreters. The pilot seeks to improve the court experience for court users. It does this by:
- identifying and coordinating legal and support needs
- supporting court registry staff to manage high-volume court lists
- supporting early resolution of matters in some cases.
- Court Services Victoria’s Self-determination has been launched as part of the Delivering Culturally Safe Court Services Program. The plan guides how courts work towards providing a culturally safe environment for court users and staff.
- The Koori Cultural Safety Initiative is now in its second phase. This initiative developed cultural safety guidelines for court mandated Men's Behaviour Change Programs. The guidelines assist providers of these programs to strengthen and develop cultural safety within their programs and organisations.
- Work on a Koori Family Violence Strategy is under way. This will provide a framework that underpins the courts’ approach to family violence in the Aboriginal community.
- An evaluation of the Koori Family Violence and Intervention Order Breaches Pilot in Mildura is under way. The evaluation considers the pilot’s implementation and effectiveness.
- We established a central team to support implementation of the Family Violence Information Sharing Scheme. The team triages and responds to information requests and proactively shares information as required. The team responds to an average of 120 information sharing requests per day.
- We established an information sharing protocol between the Magistrates’ Court of Victoria, Children’s Court of Victoria and Department of Families, Fairness and Housing. The protocol enables the department to provide the courts with information about family violence risk when determining family violence intervention order applications. It can be used by judicial officers in the Children's Court of Victoria to inform them of appropriate conditions for inclusion in family violence intervention order proceedings involving young people. The protocol also supports the Magistrates’ Court of Victoria to request information from Child Protection about the parties to a family violence proceeding.
- Courts are implementing the Multi-Agency Risk Assessment and Management (MARAM) Framework and embedding it into practice. Training to introduce and contextualise the MARAM Framework for staff engaging with victim survivors of family violence has now been delivered across the Magistrates’ Court of Victoria and Children’s Court of Victoria workforce.
What is next
Most activities within this priority area will continue through until 2023. The timeframes for delivery acknowledge the complexity of creating change within our court system. They provide sufficient time to achieve this in a way that will ensure sustained outcomes for Victoria.
Continuing activities include:
- planning for the gazettal of a further seven Specialist Family Violence Courts in 2022, as well as planning for the associated capital works to be delivered over the coming years through to 2025
- expanding the availability of Court Mandated Counselling Orders to other headquarter court locations
- progressing the development and implementation of the Magistrates’ Court of Victoria Koori family violence strategy. This will guide how the court approaches family violence in the Aboriginal community
- expansion of online and remote capabilities, including expansion of supported remote hearing access to a further 10 non-court locations
- enhancements to the online family violence intervention order application process. These changes will help reduce the need for a victim survivor to physically attend a court building
- training and capability building will continue across the workforce including:
- family violence training to judiciary and court staff
- MARAM-focused training to judiciary and court staff, including to support those who work with respondents
- training of specialist staff and multidisciplinary training of judiciary and court staff in the Specialist Family Violence Courts.
What this means for outcomes
Activities delivered under this priority area aim to increase the safety of victim survivors. They support victim survivors and families to feel safe and to ensure their voices are heard.
The establishment of Specialist Family Violence Courts is a fundamental shift that improved the safety of victim survivors. This ensures a focus on establishing inclusive courts that are victim-survivor centric. Other activities used online technologies to improve service access for victim survivors. These also contribute to enhanced safety features that give victim survivors more choice about how they want to participate in their court proceedings.
We are trialling new approaches focused on working with respondents to increase their accountability and support them to change behaviours. This is supported through magistrates being able to mandate respondents to engage in a counselling program if the person is subject to a final intervention order. These programs are designed to support respondents to take responsibility for their choice to use violence and change their behaviour.
Reforms to Victorian courts provide a more coordinated, consistent and timely response to family violence.
This includes Specialist Family Violence Court staff working closely with other court services and the sector as part of an integrated response.
Implementing the MARAM Framework and training strengthened the integration of courts with other services across the sector and built workforce capability.
The courts have also worked with the sector to enhance information sharing capability, processes and practices. This ensures that important risk information held by courts is shared more efficiently with other agencies. It also allows rapid intervention and response to prevent escalation or further harm.
Reviewed 14 April 2022