FVI e-newsletter – November 2009

Mapping out a new process for the Family Violence Inquiry

Welcome to the first Family Violence Inquiry (FVI) e-newsletter! This is a new initiative for the ALRC and is a way of keeping you up to date with our inquiry progress on a monthly basis.

With the tight timeframe to meet our reporting deadline of 31 July 2010 and given the complexity of the inquiry—involving legal frameworks across the areas of family violence, family law, criminal law, sexual assault, and child protection—we have developed a new approach to the inquiry process. The aim is to streamline the research process while still allowing us to consult widely with the community—a hallmark of ALRC inquiries. We also wanted to acknowledge and build on the substantial work already undertaken by the sector in this area, including the large number of other concurrent inquiries that are underway.

The inquiry is being conducted jointly by the ALRC and the NSWLRC. We are planning to release a Consultation Paper in March 2010 setting out a number of issues and options for reform. It will also call for formal submissions from the community to inform the preparation of a Report with recommendations for reforms. In the lead up to releasing the Consultation Paper, we will undertake a number of more targeted consultation strategies including face to face meetings with key stakeholders around the country and a number of expert forums, as well as attending conferences and seminars addressing these issues. We are also excited to have received support from the Government 2.0 Taskforce to run a pilot online stakeholder consultation (see below) with Women’s Legal Services bodies nationwide, a new form of consultation for the ALRC.

This month in summary

To assist in scoping the inquiry and identifying key issues for consideration, the Family Violence team has conducted consultations in Sydney, Canberra, Brisbane and Adelaide, with Richard Chisholm, the Family Law Council, Australian Institute of Family Studies, legal aid bodies, state DPPs, Violence Against Women Advisory Group, women’s legal services, magistrates and academics. Research is underway and the team will soon expand, with the completion of the ALRC’s other inquiries—into the Royal Commissions Act 1902 (Cth) and secrecy laws. We have already been involved in the Family Violence conference held in Brisbane 1–3 October and will be presenting at the Family Law Forum of the Family Court of Australia in Melbourne on 23 November. Such presentations provide excellent opportunities to draw attention to the FVI and prompt stakeholder engagement and participation.

Issues in focus — Vulnerable Witnesses

Each FVI e-newsletter will highlight an issue in focus and ask you whether you have any views, experience or recommendations in relation to that topic. While many of these focus issues will also be covered in the Consultation Paper, this is an opportunity for you to have input into particular issues as our work progresses.

Most States and Territories have introduced legislative provisions to assist vulnerable witnesses, generally children and people with a cognitive impairment, in giving evidence in sexual assault trials.

Q1:   How frequently are these types of protective measures utilised to assist vulnerable witnesses? Is there any resistance to their use?

Q2: Should the class of vulnerable witnesses be extended to include all victims of sexual assault as is the case in some jurisdictions?

Q3. Should the measures available to assist vulnerable witnesses be available in legal proceedings beyond sexual offences (eg, in other criminal offences where the victim is a child, in domestic or family violence order proceedings, in crimes compensation proceedings)?

Please respond via the online comment form.

The Gov 2.0 Taskforce and the Family Violence Pilot

The Government 2.0 Taskforce was formed in 2008 against a backdrop of increased interest by governments worldwide in the potential of online engagement. Over the years, the ALRC has pioneered methods to make the law reform process as open and consultative as possible, so we are extremely pleased to be receiving funding from the Taskforce to run an online stakeholder consultation pilot, with the technical and strategic support of social business and development consultancy, Headshift.  It is particularly apt that this pilot take place in the context of the Family Violence Inquiry which, in terms of tightened schedules and inter-agency collaboration, requires the ALRC to reconsider and adapt its traditional consultation process.

The Family Violence Pilot will be a small closed online forum that will enable frank and open discussion in a secure online environment between a specific group of stakeholders spread across Australia, about issues relevant to the concerns and experiences of that stakeholder group. The forum will run for 2-3 weeks, beginning next week.

This is an exciting project for the ALRC to be involved in, and we look forward to using findings from the pilot to improve and inform our online consultation practices.