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Extend the functions of Family Violence Court Division courts to other courts

Recommendation:
060
Status:
In progress

Who is leading the change

  • Court Services Victoria

The Victorian Government ensure that all Magistrates’ Court of Victoria headquarter courts and specialist family violence courts have the functions of Family Violence Court Division courts. These courts should therefore have:

  • specialist magistrates, registrars, applicant and respondent workers to assist parties in applications for family violence intervention orders and any subsequent contravention proceedings
  • dedicated police prosecutors and civil advocates
  • facilities for access to specialist family violence service providers and legal representation for applicants and respondents
  • power to make counselling orders under Part 5 of the Family Violence Protection Act 2008 (Vic)
  • remote witness facilities for applicants
  • the jurisdictional powers of the Family Violence Court Division under section 4I of the Magistrates’ Court Act 1989 (Vic), including the power to make parenting and property orders under the Family Law Act 1975 (Cth)
  • This recommendation is a centrepiece of the rollout of the specialist family violence courts (SFVC) and is interdependent with a number of recommendations. Specifically, this recommendation is interdependent with Recommendation 70, which includes improvements to court buildings and making them fit for purpose to support safety and accessibility. These recommendations are being progressed together to reflect these interdependencies and aim to: 

    •    improve victim survivors’ experience of the court system 
    •    reduce unnecessary repeat attendances at court 
    •    streamline the hearing of family violence matters 

    The SFVC reform seeks to bring to life the intent of the recommendations of the Royal Commission into Family Violence and the Coroner’s Inquest into the Death of Luke Geoffrey Batty. This not only includes the Royal Commission into Family Violence Recommendations 60 and 70, but also the many enabling recommendations that are critical to enhancing the Court’s approach to family violence specialisation. 

    The vision for the SFVC reform is for excellence in the delivery of integrated family violence court services. The SFVC reform will deliver a specialist court response to family violence matters by offering enhanced resourcing, staff specialisation and support, user centred and innovative practices, inclusivity and improved safety for families attending court. 

    The core elements of the SFVC operating model include: 

    • People: the SFVC team is a blended team of court staff, partner agencies and other additional court-based services who deliver a coordinated service response. This team is supported by a specialised and comprehensive learning and development program and wellbeing initiatives. 
    • Powers and Listings: there will be a more consistent approach to the listing of family violence matters and operational practices across the SFVC including: 
      • listing all family violence matters to be heard and determined in the SFVC by default 
      • listing all related family violence matters to be heard together where possible 
      • ensuring the same magistrate presides over all family violence matters relating to a family, to the extent practicable and appropriate (“one family, one magistrate”) 
      • establishing a target SFVC list cap and maximum listing timeframes to facilitate the provision of a high-quality service to family members who are affected by a family violence matter 
      • allowing flexibility in SFVC listings to ensure that the circumstances of individual matters are taken into account 
      • supporting consistency in listings management across SFVC venues 
      • ensuring that the safety of families living with family violence is at the centre of court processes, including the preparation and management of SFVC lists 
    • Court Environment and Experience: encompassing a purpose-built physical environment to maximise safety and choice of victim survivors and to support processes which to enhance the court experience of families attending court. This includes: 
      • a dedicated Safe Waiting Area with a separate registry which is connected to family violence services, interview rooms and at least one SFVC courtroom 
      • a separate entrance / exit connected to the safe waiting area and dedicated for the victim survivor to use which is secured with additional screening, security equipment and personnel 
      • remote witness facilities (accessible from the safe waiting area)  to enable a victim survivor to give evidence in a location other than the courtroom, as well as a screen in the SFVC courtroom should victim survivors decide to attend the courtroom but not be visible to the courtroom 
      • Security escort (G4S personnel) at arrival and departure for victim survivors at heightened risk at court 
    • Service Response: incorporating leading practice accountability-informed interventions for perpetrators providing an improved: 
      • multi-agency response that centralises victim survivors
      • process which keeps male perpetrators in view and holds them to account, and 
      • process which promotes their enduring attitudinal and behavioural change towards respectful, non-violent relationships. 
    • Oversight and Continuous Improvement: including 
      • establishing interagency governance arrangements at local and central levels, 
      • embedding data collection and monitoring processes, and 
      • establishing rigorous evaluation of the model. 

    In addition, the core principles of family safety and diversity and inclusivity are embedded through the model. 

    This is achieved through the recommendation being interdependent with the implementation of other Royal Commission into Family Violence Recommendations including 61, 63, 64, 68, 70, 90, 131, 136 and 158. 

    MCV continues to ensure that, within the parameters of current funding, a specialist family violence justice response is available at non-SFVC through innovative court practices. For example, the implementation of the Family Violence Intervention Order online form offers victim survivors greater choice and flexibility in how they apply for an intervention order, either online or by visiting a local court. Further there is a pilot underway to allow victim survivors to engage in family violence proceedings from a remote location separate from the court, reducing the trauma associated with attending court and being in close proximity to perpetrators. 

  • MCV received funding for this recommendation to be implemented at 5 headquarter courts: Shepparton, Ballarat, Moorabbin, Heidelberg and Frankston. 

    The initiation and design phases of the project were undertaken in 2018, culminating in the endorsement of the overarching SFVC Operating Model by the Courts Family Violence Reform Program Board in December 2018. 

    The SFVC Listings Policy and the SFVC Operating Guidelines endorsed in 2019 and have been implemented. These provide guidance to the courts for how to list court matters and establish operating procedures in line with the new SFVC operating model. 

    Three Specialist Family Violence Courts (SFVCs) have commenced operations at: 

    • Shepparton (September 2019) 
    • Ballarat (November 2019) 
    • Moorabbin (March 2020) 

    The commencement of SFVC operations at Heidelberg and Frankston have been delayed due to the impacts of COVID-19 and are now due to commence in the first half of 2021.

    SFVC features are currently being introduced at Heidelberg and Frankston Magistrates’ Court incrementally in preparation for official commencement, including: 

    • recruitment of specialist staff 
    • provision of multi-disciplinary training 
    • engagement of Men’s Behaviour Change Program provider and implementation of the Court Mandated Counselling Orders Program (CMCOP). 

    This recommendation cannot be acquitted without further funding from government.

  • Forecast implementation date: 31 July 2021.

Reviewed 07 January 2021

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