By Belinda Hawkins
Australia’s first Minister for the Prevention of Family Violence has accused the justice system of increasing the hardship experienced by victims.’
When Fiona Richardson took on the Victorian Government’s portfolio for family violence, she was appalled by a hearing she witnessed in the Magistrates’ Court.
“I didn’t flag that I was coming, I just wanted to turn up and see what it was like on, you know, any particular day,” Ms Richardson said.
“And I saw the usual victim silencing and women not really being listened to in terms of their particular experience.
“But the moment in time that did make me quite angry was watching a victim of family violence, who was seeking an interim intervention order, something that just lasts for a very short period of time, being cross-examined by the judge.
“And it just occurred to me that this adversarial model, this putting women in a sense on trial as they’re trying to actually deal with some very challenging behaviours in their life, it’s the reason why you hear consistently from victims that the whole court process is a re-traumatising process.
“And it’s why families like ours, for example, steered clear of the court system, and we know that the majority of families do just that.”
Ms Richardson agreed there was a role for courts to play in “holding perpetrators accountable” but remained sceptical about the capacity of magistrates and judges to be effective.
“If you actually set out to design a system most likely to fail, in resolving family conflicts, you would design a system that we have — the traditional justice model,” she said.
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said politicians needed to take responsibility for any failures.
“I think there are many that are quick to blame magistrates, are quick to blame lots of different parts of this system,” he said.
“But the real failure is on the part of the Government. We’ve not joined up those services; we’ve not properly supported them to do better.”
“The system is not broken; it’s heavily under strain,” lawyer Caroline Counsel said.