Specialist family violence courts across Australia would improve women’s safety: research finds

Dr Fitz-gibbon

As Monash University marks White Ribbon Day, a Monash criminologist argues a stronger commitment to specialist family violence courts nationally would improve women’s safety and perpetrator accountability.

In Australia, a person experiencing family violence can find themselves moving between numerous courts to have their matter heard including the Magistrates’ Court, District (County) Court, Supreme Court, Children’s Court, and/or Family Court.

Monash University Criminologist Dr Kate Fitz-Gibbon has published new research on family violence and the court system as part of a Churchill Fellowship. She found Australia’s current segregated approach was inadequate and multiple areas of law should be brought under the one specialist family violence court banner in order to improve outcomes.

“Requiring a victim of family violence to deal with multiple courts can prolong their involvement with the justice system, increase the chance of disengagement and multiply the points of the system at which information may fail to be shared or risks may be overlooked,” Dr Fitz-Gibbon said.

“Australian state and territory jurisdictions currently demonstrate an ad hoc commitment to specialist family violence courts. To a varying degree specialist family violence courts have been introduced in all Australian states and territories, with the exception of the Northern Territory (NT). Of those jurisdictions that do have specialist family violence courts, what is termed a ‘specialist court’ or ‘list’ and the degree to which processes and personnel are indeed specialised varies significantly.

“At a moment in time when Australian governments – both state and national – have publicly pledged their commitment to preventing and better responding to family violence, the creation of a stronger and more effective legal system must be prioritised and appropriately resourced,” she said.

“In Victoria, improving court responses to family violence forms one important element of the transformation of the state’s family violence response system and indeed the response to family violence nationally.”

During her Fellowship, Dr Fitz-Gibbon visited and observed Integrated Domestic Violence (IDV) Courts operating in New York and implemented across various US states.

“By bringing multiple stakeholders together, the model increases transparency across the different court systems and areas of law with the aim of improving victim safety and satisfaction, enhancing perpetrator accountability, and improving case management and processing.”

Dr Fitz-Gibbon said, ‘While focusing on the law alone is not sufficient in improving responses to and the prevention of family violence in Australia, we cannot ignore that the criminal justice system provides a key opportunity to hold perpetrators to account, to acknowledge victimisation and ensure a person’s safety, and to send a clear message to the community that family violence – in all forms – is unacceptable.