ALRC to develop national legal framework to tackle family violence

The Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) welcomed today’s announcement by the Commonwealth Attorney-General, the Hon Robert McClelland MP, of new Terms of Reference for an Inquiry to address issues concerning violence against women and their children.

The Terms of Reference ask the ALRC to focus on a number of matters, including:

  1. the interaction in practice of State and Territory family violence and child protection laws with the Family Law Act 1975 and relevant Commonwealth, State and Territory criminal laws; and
  2. the impact of inconsistent interpretation or application of laws in cases of sexual assault occurring in a family violence context, including rules of evidence, on victims of such violence. 

ALRC President, Emeritus Professor David Weisbrot, noted that family violence remains a profound problem in Australia, and that the current legal frameworks may not be helping. “While legislation will only ever be one part of the solution, it is nevertheless an important part, and it is essential that these laws operate as effectively and consistently as possible.” 

“The protection of women and children is predominantly dealt with under state and territory family and domestic violence laws and child protection laws. These laws vary across the jurisdictions, which may result in women and children being subject to different levels of protection depending upon where they live. There also may be problems recognising and enforcing apprehended violence orders across state and territory borders,” Professor Weisbrot said.

 “Another key issue is how these laws interact with Commonwealth laws touching on family violence, such as the Family Law Act.  The ALRC will explore whether the complexity of Australia’s federal system causes problems, such as inconsistent or incompatible protective orders; any duplication of effort by federal, state and territory courts; or any gaps or inadequacies in the cooperation between those courts and state and territory agencies.

We also want to ensure that the law enables women and children to report family and domestic violence, participate in legal processes, and access appropriate remedies; as well as facilitating the rehabilitation of perpetrators and, of course, the prevention of family violence in the first place.”

Professor Weisbrot noted that this inquiry follows on from the excellent recent work of the National Council to Reduce Violence Against Women and Their Children, which released its National Action Plan in March, and will also build upon previous work by the ALRC.

“The ALRC completed a major inquiry into domestic violence in 1984, and has also considered violence against women and children and related matters in a number of previous reports, including those focusing on the legal rights of children (1997), women’s equality before the law (1994) and uniform evidence laws (2005).

We will be working closely with our counterparts in NSW and around the country to ensure the adoption of an effective and truly national approach to these critical issues.”

The ALRC will now commence its program of community engagement—including through the use of its online ‘Talk to Us’ website—and will publish one or more consultation papers for community debate and feedback. The final report and recommendations are due to be provided to the Attorney-General by no later than 31 July 2010.