Family Violence is arguably one of the most pervasive forms of violence that our community currently faces.
One in three Victorian women will experience family violence in their lifetime and family violence continues to be the leading contributor to the preventable death, disability and illness of Victorian women aged 15 to 44 years. In 2013, 29 women, eight children and seven men were killed in family violence incidents.
Former Victoria Police Chief Commissioner Ken Lay recently reported that family violence constitutes 40 per cent of Victorian police work and that sixty five per cent of that work involves responding to repeat offenders. This is concerning given that agencies such as men’s behavior change programs, which are specifically aimed at tackling recidivist behaviours, are currently only able to provide services to roughly twenty per cent of men in need of intervention.
In the last 10 years, reports of family violence and the number of family violence intervention orders finalised in Victorian Magistrates’ Courts have more than doubled and family violence services have become overwhelmed by the demand.
The current responses to family violence have been criticised for being uncoordinated which is said to leave victims navigating the various agencies feeling bewildered and alone.
The Victorian Government is in the process of establishing a Royal Commission into Family Violence, which is to be chaired by Justice Marcia Neave AO, Justice of Appeal, Supreme Court of Australia.
The overarching aim of the Royal Commission is to provide practical recommendations on how to improve Victoria’s response in stopping family violence.
The Commissioners’ terms of reference, released on 19 January 2015, are:
- Examine and evaluate strategies, frameworks, policies, programs and services across government and local government, media, business and community organisations and establish best practice for:
- The prevention of family violence;
- Early intervention to identify and protect those at risk of family violence and prevent the escalation of violence;
- Support for victims of family violence and measures to address the impacts on victims, particularly on women and children; and
- Perpetrator accountability.
- Investigate the means of having systemic responses to family violence, particularly in the legal system and by police, corrections, child protection, legal and family violence support services, including reducing reoffending and changing violent and controlling behaviours;
- Investigate how government agencies and community organisations can better integrate and coordinate their efforts; and
- Provide recommendations on how best to evaluate and measure the success of strategies, frameworks, policies, programs and services in place to stop family violence.
The Royal Commission has also been asked to make recommendations as appropriate in the following areas:
- The need to establish a culture of non-violence and gender equality, and to shape appropriate attitudes towards women and children;
- The needs and experiences of people affected by family violence with particular regard to children, seniors, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, culturally and linguistically diverse communities, gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex communities, regional and rural communities and people with a disability and complex needs;
- The need to identify and focus on practical short, medium and long term systemic improvements to Victoria’s current response to family violence and the need for this response to be sustainable into the future;
- The need for coordination across jurisdictions to provide the most effective response to family violence;
- The systems and mechanisms to identify and appropriately prevent and respond to family violence, including information sharing and data systems; and
- The expertise of professionals and academics working in the field of family violence, including any relevant international and Australian family violence research, past inquiries, reports and evaluations that may inform your inquiry and avoid unnecessary duplication.In making their recommendations the Commissioners are required to have regard to factors such as establishing a culture of non-violence; the needs and experiences of individuals effected by family violence; the need to focus on practical short, medium and long term systemic remedies and improvements to Victoria’s current response to family violence; as well as the need for better coordination and information sharing systems.
The Commission is set to begin in February 2015 and it is anticipated it will last 12 months.
In addition to the Royal Commission, a task force led by the Chief Magistrate and including Victoria Police, lawyers and community groups has been established to review current family violence services and make recommendations for improvements across criminal, civil and child protection jurisdictions.
An aim of the task force will be to improve integration of existing legal, court, policing and community services. It will also seek to make recommendations for any required funding changes or amendments to legislations once it has considered existing court processes at both State and Federal level.
At Nicholes Family Lawyers we continue our involvement in the community to address the ongoing problem of family violence. For example, our solicitors provide pro bono assistance through a legal clinic, which operates at the Women’s Information and Referral Exchange (WIRE). This clinic fills an important gap in the system to ensure that women who can not afford private legal assistance but who do not qualify for Victoria Legal aid, are able to access advice in regard to property and maintenance issues.