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Courts

Reforming the court response to family violence

Building momentum

The legal system and the courts themselves are the most 'unreal' place for many victim survivors. They are like a foreign land, with its own language and landscape. Victim survivors are vulnerable, hyper alert, fearful and anxious…

Engage Victoria stakeholder survey response
August 2020

Court is a crucial part of a victim survivor’s journey when seeking protection from family violence. We are committed to having a court system where victim survivors of family violence feel physically, emotionally and culturally safe – a court that is accessible and where our diverse Victorian community, including Aboriginal Victorians, have equal access to justice.

Four years on from the Royal Commission into Family Violence, the courts have been transforming their response to family violence to make court safer, ensure people have the support they need, and keep perpetrators in view.

Specialist family violence responses, such as family violence applicant and respondent practitioners, are currently available at all headquarter courts.

Specialist Family Violence Courts build on this and provide further specialisation. Three Specialist Family Violence Courts are now operating, with another four to be delivered. Key features include:

  • enhanced safety features, such as separate entrances for victim survivors and remote hearing facilities
  • magistrates and court staff with training in family violence
  • processes that give victim survivors more choice about how they want to participate in their court proceedings, for example, in person or remotely
  • magistrates who have powers to mandate that perpetrators of family violence engage in programs to change their behaviour
  • a dedicated service for Aboriginal Victorians
The Shepparton Family Violence Court building
Shepparton Family Violence Court

This trauma-informed approach to family violence means that victim survivors have more control over their court experience and have greater access to support services that can help them at court and beyond.

The safe waiting space provided me with a sense of control because I was given a choice.

Specialist Family Violence Court user

Coronavirus (COVID-19) has changed how the courts operate and has prompted courts to quickly adapt and make greater use of technology.

  • The new Online Magistrates’ Court allows court users to participate in their hearing remotely.
  • The fast-tracked Family Violence Intervention Order (FVIO) online form offers more choice and control for victim survivors when they apply for a FVIO.

The Magistrates’ Court will continue to develop and refine these initiatives with a view to expand and embed their use in the coming years.

While courts have made considerable progress to improve the safety and experience of victim survivors, there is still more to do. Courts will continue to improve their service to all Victorians, to keep victim survivors and their families safe through the court system and to ensure that perpetrators of family violence are appropriately held to account.

Progress since 2016

Court reforms are fundamental to Victoria’s 10-year plan to end family violence. Key activities which have been delivered since the Royal Commission have been grouped here into five areas.

  1. The courts are working to improve access to justice and help victim survivors feel supported and safe when they encounter the justice system, wherever they are in Victoria.

    Safety and support

    Online Family Violence Intervention Order (FVIO)

    • The new Family Violence Intervention Order online form has been rolled out statewide, making the application process more accessible and convenient for victim survivors who are able to complete their application online without attending court.

    Family Violence Contact Centre

    • The Contact Centre is providing timely and consistent advice.

    Between launch in May 2018 and 31 October 2020 the Contact Centre responded to 187,376 inquiries.

    Multi-Agency Risk Assessment and Management (MARAM)

    • The MARAM Framework is being implemented jointly across the Magistrates’ and Children’s Courts.
    • Professionals within the courts are able to identify and assess risk when engaging with victim survivors.
    • This ensures they respond appropriately, including referring to specialist services to get victim survivors the help they need such as legal assistance or access to a refuge.

    Family Violence Information Sharing Scheme (FVISS)

    • A dedicated FVISS team has been established to respond to information requests from family violence agencies to enhance risk assessment and management.

    Online hearings

    • Courts have commenced hearing family violence matters online, to ensure victim survivors can have their matters heard and perpetrators continue to be held to account during COVID-19.

    Umalek Balit

    • Umalek Balit, the court-based Koori Family Violence and Victim Support Program, is available at Melbourne, Mildura, Ballarat and Shepparton Magistrates’ Courts.
    • It offers culturally relevant support to Aboriginal Victorians attending court.
  2. Three Specialist Family Violence Courts (SFVC) are operational in Ballarat, Moorabbin and Shepparton and two more are under construction at Frankston and Heidelberg.

    Additionally, a SFVC will be built as part of the Bendigo Law Courts redevelopment and also as part of new law courts to be developed at Wyndham.

    People attending these courts receive a trauma-informed response. The courts provide a safe physical environment and experience, including the following features:

    Safe physical environment

    • enhanced safety features that include separate court entrances and a safe waiting space with amenities for applicants and their children

    Safe practices

    • specialist family violence magistrates to hear family violence matters
    • related matters being heard together by the same magistrate (where possible) through a new listings policy
    • specialist family violence practitioners available for victim survivors and perpetrators
    • Court Mandated Counselling Order Program at each SFVC, which allows specialist family violence magistrates to order male perpetrators of family violence to attend men’s behaviour change programs
    • new SFVC listings policy and SFVC operational guidelines which detail how the SFVCs will operate, and work with legal services to establish the SFVC legal practice model

    CASE STUDY – Specialist Family Violence Court 

    A victim survivor was due to attend court with a young child with additional needs.

    The court team discussed and planned for the family’s needs at the daily coordination meeting. 

    The victim survivor arrived with their child and court staff directed them to the safe waiting area. The victim survivor immediately complimented the facilities as unexpected and welcomed the non-traditional environment.

    The victim survivor and their child used the safe waiting area facilities and child-friendly space and the court directed services to them as needed. The victim survivor kept saying this was not what they were expecting and it was so much easier.

    Throughout the day the victim survivor was coming and going between the space, meeting with services, and preparing snacks for the child.

    These facilities made the victim survivor and child feel more comfortable during their court experience.

  3. Remote hearings are a way for victim survivors to participate in the court process without having to come face-to-face with the perpetrator in a courtroom.

    They reduce the risk of violence at court, remove the trauma associated with face-to-face interactions with perpetrators and increase a victim survivor’s choice as to how they participate in their court hearing.

    A Remote Hearing Pilot has enabled victim survivors to participate in their hearing at a location other than the court building.

    CASE STUDY – Remote Hearing Pilot, January 2020

    Victoria Police were applying for an indefinite extension to an existing order.

    The perpetrator had persistently breached the order and was on remand for related criminal charges. On one occasion he called the victim survivor hundreds of times over a three-day period and she was extremely fearful of the perpetrator.

    The Remote Hearing Applicant Practitioner contacted the victim survivor prior to the hearing and undertook further risk assessment on the day.

    The victim survivor arrived at the remote hearing location and was able to speak to the Police Family Violence Liaison Officer via video.

    Her matter was heard by video conference shortly after.

    She had a newborn and was able to return to her baby within the hour.

    As she left, the victim survivor said she felt much more comfortable and that the remote hearing was much less stressful than the other occasions when she had attended court.

    Funding was provided in the 2020/21 State Budget to expand remote hearing services to further locations across Victoria.

  4. Court processes can be adversarial, often dealing with people’s rights and demands.

    The courts are continuing to support children in the court system to ensure that they are supported and not marginalised.

    This means promoting their needs, wishes and voices through the implementation of less adversarial practices, and access to supports that are better targeted to their individual needs.

    The RESTORE program

    RESTORE is a program facilitated by Jesuit Social Services operating out of the Melbourne Children’s Court to support families in situations where young people are using violence in the home. This service is available for young people who appear before the court as respondents to family violence intervention order applications.

    RESTORE utilises family group conferencing to assist the young person and their family to develop practical solutions that will keep them safe and prevent further violence occurring. This also increases the safety of other family members living in the home, including child victim survivors.

    Melbourne Children's Court

    Dedicated family violence practitioners at the Melbourne Children’s Court support both child victim survivors and adolescents engaging in family violence.

    Plain language, multimedia information is available for court users in public areas at the Melbourne Children’s Court. It includes specific information about court processes tailored to the experience of those attending the Children’s Court for family violence proceedings.

    Court Support 4 Kids

    A trauma-informed service has been made available at some courts for victim survivors with children.

    Risk Assessment

    MARAM is being implemented jointly across the Magistrates’ and Children’s Courts to increase the safety and wellbeing of Victorian families, by helping assess, identify and manage family violence risk.

    Koori family violence support

    Koori Family Violence Practitioners support clients who are community connected – that is, clients who have a partner who is Aboriginal or have an Aboriginal child in their care.

  5. Significant investment has been made in the court workforce, providing staff with a trauma-informed understanding of family violence that focuses on the needs and safety of victim survivors.

    Family violence training delivered to 460 court employees since July 2019

    • Courts have increased the capability of court security teams and Court Network volunteers to support the service delivery objectives at Specialist Family Violence Courts (SFVC).
    • Courts have delivered extensive training with the Judicial College of Victoria for each new SFVC location to support magistrates to manage family violence matters, including intersectionality training for Family Violence Lead Magistrates.

    Judges – our lives, our safety is based on a judge… we rely on them.

    Victim Survivors’ Advisory Council
    Rolling Action Plan consultation workshop
    August 2020
    • An enhanced learning and development program for staff includes a focus on pre-court engagement, early identification and referrals to appropriate services.
    • Family Safety Victoria’s Strengthening the Foundations, First Rolling Action Plan 2019 – 2022 and the Responding to Family Violence Capability Framework have been embedded in workforce recruitment, building workforce capability and wellbeing.
    • MARAM training continues to be delivered to court staff, with 190 staff trained to comprehensive-level. Training transitioned to online learning during COVID-19.

    Intersectionality and cultural safety

    • Courts have developed training materials in consultation with Aboriginal people and members of the LGBTIQ+, culturally and linguistically diverse, and victim survivor communities.
    • Where Umalek Balit has been launched, a cultural safety professional development program has been implemented, improving safety and access for Aboriginal people.

Delivery to 2023 

Activities for 2020-2023 will continue to progress the courts’ family violence reform. This overview groups delivery of our planned courts activities to 2023 under the relevant Family Violence Outcomes Framework domains.

  1. Activities
    The court will establish Specialist Family Violence Courts at four further locations, Heidelberg, Frankston, Bendigo and Wyndham

    The Specialist Family Violence Court at Wyndham is part of a new investment in Law Courts for Wyndham announced in the 2020/21 State Budget

    2021 (Heidelberg and Frankston)

    2023 (Bendigo)

    TBC (Wyndham)

    CSV
    Review the implementation approach for the remaining Specialist Family Violence Court recommendations in the context of broader court reform including recent court innovations, post coronavirus (COVID-19) recovery and infrastructure planning 2021 DJCS CSV
    Remote hearing services will be expanded to several additional locations across the state

    Pilots will continue to inform ongoing policy around addressing the safety of victim survivors, and making it easier for people to participate in their court hearing

    2020-2023 CSV
    Court attendance safety plans are under development at the Melbourne Children’s Court to prioritise the safety of victim survivors, including children

    This may include the arrangement of remote witness facilities, staggered departure times, and appropriate support when entering court rooms and participating in proceedings

    2020-2023 CSV
    The Family Violence Intervention Order (FVIO) online form will be expanded to allow applicants to extend, vary or revoke an existing FVIO application online

    This is the most commonly requested service enhancement to complete the FVIO application cycle

    These changes mean that a victim survivor will not need to physically attend a court building to apply for changes to their intervention order or receive court services

    2020-2023 CSV
    The court will work with peak organisations to develop family violence training for court interpreters, including innovative pilots, such as the VideoLink model where court interpreters are available remotely 2020-2023 CSV
    A strong focus on learning and development for judiciary and staff specialising in family violence

    This includes multi-disciplinary training which will bring workers from across the sector to share a consistent message and approach, and result in a better experience across the system

    2020-2023 CSV
    The court will continue to run the Delivering Culturally Safe Court Services program to provide court staff with the capability to deliver a culturally sensitive, trauma-informed service to Aboriginal court users 2020-2023 CSV
    The court will implement the Specialist Family Violence Court Capability Development Pathways to support the ongoing specialisation of the Specialist Family Violence Court staff 2020-2023 CSV
  2. Activities
    Deliver the Koori Cultural Safety Initiative, in collaboration with an Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisation, to support mainstream men’s behaviour change program providers to deliver culturally safe and appropriate programs to court-ordered Aboriginal people who use violence 2020-2022 CSV
    Continue to operate the Court Mandated Counselling Order Program to keep more perpetrators accountable and in view 2020-2023 CSV
    Trial an evaluation of the Integrated Counselling and Case Management Program pilot, a new perpetrator intervention program that addresses the complex interplay between family violence, alcohol and other drugs, and/or mental health issues and provides greater opportunity to tailor responses for a wider range of perpetrators 2020-2023 CSV
  3. Activities
    Evaluation of the implementation and effectiveness of the Koori Family Violence Intervention Order Breaches pilot in Mildura 2020-2021 CSV
    The court will continue to implement the MARAM Framework in full across the Magistrates’ Court of Victoria and Children’s Court of Victoria and embed it into practice 2020-2023 CSV
    The Family Violence Contact Centre will continue to be expanded to support additional court locations, including to all specialist family violence court locations 2020-2023 CSV
    Growing demand for information sharing across the family violence service sector will continue to be addressed, providing fast response through the Family Violence Information Sharing Scheme 2020-2023 CSV
    Development and implementation of the Magistrates’ Court of Victoria Koori Family Violence Strategy will guide how the courts approach family violence in the Aboriginal community 2020-2023 CSV
    All-encompassing process and outcome evaluation of the Magistrates' Court-led family violence reforms, with a focus on the implementation and effectiveness of the Specialist Family Violence Courts and associated reforms 2019-2023 CSV
    Implementation of an information sharing protocol between the Magistrates’ Court, Children’s Court and Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) to ensure that when a parent seeks a new or amended family violence intervention order, the Magistrates’ and Children’s Court can seek information held by DHHS in relation to family violence risk 2020-2023 CSV

Connecting courts across the reform

The ongoing delivery of connected reform activity is building further strength into the court reforms. For example:  

  • strengthening legal responses to family violence incidents through exploring opportunities for new legislation
  • providing more funding and training to integrate legal assistance earlier in the response to family violence and improving family violence legal literacy to support better court outcomes
  • extending MARAM training to other workforces intersecting with family violence
  • integrating services across the reform and providing clearer referral pathways from courts to better support victim survivors with wraparound services

Reform-wide priorities

Activities to strengthen court services are informed by our reform-wide priorities of intersectionality, Aboriginal self-determination and lived experience.

Intersectionality

Victim survivors from diverse communities face a range of challenges and barriers when accessing the court system and processes. Initiatives to address this include:

  • dedicated family violence practitioners at every headquarter court to support victim survivors and perpetrators during their court experience
  • LGBTIQ+ family violence practitioners at the Neighbourhood Justice Centre, Melbourne Magistrates’ Court and Heidelberg Magistrates’ Court provide specialised practitioner support to the LGBTIQ+ communities
  • the Umalek Balit program provides a dedicated support service for Aboriginal Victorians

The courts will continue to build on specialist programs which reflect the trauma-informed approach to family violence such as the LGBTIQ Family Violence Practitioners Pilot.

Intersectionality Overview

Aboriginal self-determination

Logo of the Aboriginal family violence support program, Umalek Balit. Large concentric circle in the center, with six smaller concentric circles around it.
Umalek Balit logo

Umalek Balit, which means ‘give strength’ in& Woiwurrung, the language of the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin Nations, is a dedicated Aboriginal family violence support program.

Umalek Balit supports self-determination and aims to redress the historical inequities experienced by Aboriginal people within the justice system. Umalek Balit has been developed in conjunction with representatives from Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations, Elders and Respected Persons, Dhelk Dja, Regional Aboriginal Justice Advisory Committees and court staff.

A cultural safety professional development program is introduced at each court location prior to Umalek Balit being implemented, enhancing workforce training and safeguarding Aboriginal court staff, including Elders and Respected Persons, who are involved in family violence-related hearings.

The Umalek Balit program:

  • builds the court’s knowledge of Aboriginal people in Victoria and the barriers faced in accessing the justice system
  • provides culturally safe and appropriate support, information and referrals to services
  • improves the court’s capacity to engage with Aboriginal respondents and applicants in family violence matters
  • improves the Victorian Aboriginal community’s confidence in the courts and justice system
Koori Family Violence Project logo. Six figures on a hill holding hands.
Koori Family Violence Project logo

Women’s and men’s practitioners work with Aboriginal people to guide them through the court experience. This includes offering culturally relevant, non-legal expertise regarding family violence matters. 

Since Umalek Balit was established, the dedicated Koori Practitioner services have enhanced safety and improved perpetrator interventions. Umalek Balit improves alignment to Aboriginal self-determination through stronger engagement with Aboriginal community support services and creates greater cultural safety for Aboriginal clients and court staff.

Koori Practitioners are available at Melbourne, Shepparton, Mildura, and Ballarat Magistrates’ Courts.

I’m pleased that Aboriginal people are supporting Aboriginal people.

Umalek Balit service user

Koori Family Violence Practitioners support the Umalek Balit program.

This case study was collected from information provided by a Koori Women’s Family Violence Practitioner.

CASE STUDY – Koori Women's Family Violence Practitioner

Fiona* met with the Koori Women’s Practitioner in a culturally safe space at the local court. As they introduce themselves, the practitioner builds rapport and creates a culturally appropriate and safe space where Fiona feels comfortable to share her story.

She explains that she has been in a relationship with Brian* for 3 years and they have one child together, Abby*, aged 2.

Fiona has issues with her memory following a head injury she sustained after Brian assaulted her. She said that throughout the course of their relationship Brian would hit her in front of Abby, control her by isolating her from family and friends, make threats and would damage property.

Brian has been charged with unlawful assault. Fiona has had enough of Brian’s behaviour and no longer wants to be in a relationship with him. The Koori Women’s Practitioner talks with Fiona about what her options are, and what supports are available, now that she has decided to end the relationship.

After the initial consultation, the Koori Women’s Practitioner makes sure Fiona understands the court process and conditions of the intervention order and talks with Fiona about how she might report a breach of the order to the police.

The practitioner works with Fiona on safety planning and makes a referral to a service of Fiona’s choosing. The practitioner provides a list of other services, both mainstream and Aboriginal.

She advises Fiona that she may be eligible for Victims of Crime Assistance (VOCAT) to assist with recovering personal items as a result of the offences committed against her and Abby.

The Koori Women’s Practitioner continues to support Fiona throughout the course of the intervention order matter as well as the VOCAT process if she wishes to proceed with an application.

*Note: Names have been changed.

Aboriginal Self-Determination Overview

Lived experience

Lived experience informs the courts’ family violence reform.

A family violence consultant advises the Magistrates’ Court of Victoria on lived experience for victim survivors and their families. They provide advice on the design of new service models, operational processes and policies developed as part of the courts' family violence reform.

The views and experiences of court and family violence service users are regularly engaged during evaluations, such as the Remote Hearing Pilot Evaluation and the Evaluation of the Magistrates’ Court-led Family Violence Reform.

The courts are working to improve access to justice and help victim survivors feel supported and safe when they encounter the justice system, wherever they are in Victoria.

Lived Experience Overview

Measuring outcomes

Family Violence Outcomes Framework 

Delivering the activities for this priority area will likely have the greatest impact in achieving outcomes against the following domains:

Domains 2, 3 and 4

Domain 2, Victim survivors, vulnerable children and families are safe and supported to recover and thrive. Domain 3, Perpetrators are held accountable, connected and take responsibility for stopping their violence. Domain 4, Preventing and responding to family violence is systemic and enduring.
Domains 2, 3 and 4
Download Domains 2, 3 and 4

Reviewed 09 December 2020

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