Chief Justice Alstergren AO shines light on family violence at National Family Law Conference, Adelaide

Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia

The Chief Justice (Division 1) and Chief Judge (Division 2) of the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia, the Hon Will Alstergren AO, together with the Commonwealth Attorney-General the Hon Mark Dreyfus, will deliver the State of the National address at the opening of the 19th National Family Law Conference in Adelaide on Monday 15 August.

The Chief Justice will address one of Australia’s most significant crises – the unacceptable prevalence of family violence experienced by vulnerable people and children throughout all areas of the community.

“As we all know, the prevalence of family violence in Australia is a national disgrace.

“It is time for us all to expect and perhaps demand that as a society we have a proper, national conversation about this disgraceful conduct. A conversation that seeks to properly understand the causes, to educate, to prevent and to condemn this behaviour. It is not a responsibility just placed on Government, it is a responsibility we should all bear, leaders of society, educators, communicators, leaders of industry, of sport, of community groups, of society, all sending the same message. As parents, sisters, brothers and families, as friends, as school teachers, as employers and as communities. As Australians saying, no,” Chief Justice Alstergren states.

At the conference, the Chief Justice will outline that the Courts’ focus and priority is squarely on family violence, and the Courts have made significant changes to address the seriousness of the issue. Some of those changes and initiatives include:

  • Mandatory filing of a Notice of Risk in every parenting proceeding.
  • Comprehensive family violence and trauma informed training for Judges, Registrars and Court Child Experts.
  • Clear and consistent case management pathway – focused on early resolution if safe to do so.
  • All cases are triaged at the earliest stage.
  • Digital transformation that enables vulnerable and regional litigants to have access to justice from their homes or safe environments
  • Lighthouse Project – early and confidential risk-screening to identify vulnerable parties and to provide them with safety planning, tailored case management and referral to support services.
  • Matters that are identified as high risk are placed on the Evatt List, and receive specialised case management.
  • PPP500 – focuses on urgent preservation of assets to ensure the economic security of vulnerable litigants, and provides access to the court process in an easier, cheaper, and quicker way.
  • Employment of Indigenous Liaison Officers, and introduction of specialist Indigenous Lists and culturally responsive case management processes.
  • Specialist lists such as the National Contravention List and the Critical Incident List.

The Courts have invested significant resources to enable the electronic collection of critical statistics about those allegations. The statistics from Notices filed from the last twelve months are as informative as they are confronting:

  • In 70% of matters, one or more parties alleged that a child had been abused or was at risk of child abuse
  • In 80% of matters, one or more parties alleged that they had experienced family violence
  • In 74% of matters, one or more parties alleged that a child had experienced family violence
  • In 53% of matters, one or more parties alleged that drug, alcohol or substance misuse by a party had caused harm to a child or posed a risk of harm to a child
  • In 58% of matters, one or more parties alleged that mental health issues of a party had caused harm to a child or posed a risk of harm to a child

76% of all parenting proceedings last year were mandatorily referred to the state or territory child welfare agency because of the risks alleged. That’s nearly 8 out of every 10 matters filed.

Last year, in 66% of matters the parties disclosed four or more risk factors.

Chief Justice Alstergren said that, “these figures are shocking and go some way to depicting the prevalence of family violence and other risks in our courts and in the community.”

The organising committee of the Family Law Section of the Law Council of Australia is to be commended on developing an informative and educative program for the hundreds of family law practitioners registered to attend the event in Adelaide. For more details on the conference see: Program – 19th National Family Law Conference

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