Family Violence Best Practice Principles: the Courts’ response to family violence?

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By Alexandra Moles, Partner, and Brooke Nickerson, Lawyer

Allegations of family violence are prevalent in matters dealt with by the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia (Division 1) and (Division 2) (Courts).

At the end of August 2023, the Courts published an updated Family Violence Best Practice Principles (5th edition). A copy of the Best Practice Principles can be found on the Courts’ website here.

The Best Practice Principles were first published in March 2009, and they were developed “to provide practical guidance to legal practitioners, court users, service providers and the general public about the principles that guide the Courts’ response to family violence, and to ensure the physical and emotional safety of participants.[1]

There are seven (7) overarching principles that guide the Courts’ response to family violence, including:

  • family violence is not acceptable;
  • safety is a right and priority for all court users; and
  • parenting matters involving family violence will be identified early and appropriately managed.

There are a number of practical ways in which the Courts seek to address these principles in its’ response to family violence. Here are some examples:

Before Court

  • There is a requirement that parties participate in family dispute resolution prior to applying to the Court for parenting orders. A party may seek an exemption from this requirement where there is family violence and/or child abuse or a risk of family violence and/or child abuse.
  • The Courts’ website has a “Quick Exit” button which allows the user to immediately exit the website and be redirected to the Google homepage.

At the time of starting Court proceedings

  • In December 2020, the Courts implemented the Lighthouse Project to ensure that safety risks are identified early and appropriately managed.

After a party files an Initiating Application or Response seeking parenting orders, they are emailed a link to complete an online confidential risk screen. The risk screen enables the Courts to place the matter into the most appropriate case management pathway, including to consider whether the matter should be included in a specialist court list, such as the Evatt List, Critical Incident List or the Magellan List, and ensures that parties receive referrals to appropriate support services.

The Federal Budget for 2022-23 includes a commitment of $87.9 million over six (6) years for the expansion of the Lighthouse Project.

To read more about the Lighthouse Project, visit the Courts’ website here.

At Court

  • The Courts ensure safety for court users through a number of measures, including airport style screening when entering court buildings, security, access to safe rooms, allowing parties to be accompanied by a support person or request to attend Court electronically, and safety planning.

A safety plan can be developed in one of two ways:

  1. If registry staff identify a risk and/or safety concerns at Part L of a Notice of child abuse, family violence or risk, they will contact the party and/or their legal representative to offer a safety plan.
  2. The party and/or their legal representative can contact the Courts directly on 1300 352 000 to request a safety plan.

The Family Advocacy and Support Service can also provide support and assistance with safety planning.

  • In matters where an unrepresented party intends to cross examine the other party and there are allegations of family violence (with the victim being either the witness or examining party), the Courts can make an order for cross-examination to be conducted by a legal representative (see section 102NA of the Family Law Act 1975 (Cth) or read more about it here).

How can we help?

The  Family and Relationship Law team at Mills Oakley has significant experience advising about allegations of family violence and assisting to navigate the Court system in a safe and supported way.

[1] Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia (Division 1) and (Division 2), Family Violence Best Practice Principles, 1.

For further information, please do not hesitate to contact us.

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