The Lighthouse Project (“the project”) is an important initiative implemented by the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia (“the Court”) in late 2020. The project currently operates through the Adelaide, Brisbane and Parramatta registries. The project assesses family law matters which present as being at high risk of family violence and other family safety risks. The matters in the project are managed through a dedicated list named the Evatts Lists, with the Honourable Judge Samantha Murdoch being assigned to sit on trials arising from the project. The project is also supported by a team of specially trained Registrars and family counsellors delegated to screen matters allocated to the list for risks. The early intervention and monitoring by the Registrars and family counsellors are aimed at providing targeted case management and support services referrals to address the risks identified.
The recent media release published by the Court in November 2021 revealed that the project had identified that “family violence and other associated risks have increased,” where 80% of family law cases present with “one major risk factor” and 50% present with “four or more risk factors.” Overall, the data identified by the project uncovered the following:
- “54% of parties allege a child has been abused or is at risk of abuse.
- 64% of parties allege they have experienced family violence.
- 57% of parties allege a child has experienced family violence.
- 39% of parties allege that drug, alcohol or substance misuse has caused harm or poses a risk of harm to a child.
- 40% of parties allege that the mental ill-health of a party has caused harm or poses a risk of harm to a child.”
The data from the project has assisted the Court in providing a specialised approach to case management, in particular the information gathered is used to provide the appropriate supports and safety measures needed for families. The information further enables the Court to streamline their processes by offering referrals to “child welfare organisations, fast-tracking counselling and consultant reports, and a specialist hearing list.” This ensures families identified at high risk will be well supported with safeguards around managing that risk as the matter progresses through the Court system. The Chief Justice of the Court the Honourable Will Alstergren stated that “The Lighthouse Project has enabled the Court to shine the light on the details of allegations raised in individual cases and provide critical tailored support for those families.”
The Lighthouse Project is as positive response taken by the Court in raising awareness and addressing the prevention of family violence and associated risks in matters before the Court. The Court’s resources are aimed at early prevention through the engagement of Registrars and family counsellors. Further, the specialised approach to case management demonstrates the Court’s proactive approach in dealing with matters that present as being at high risk of family violence and other associated risks.