32.1 In the course of this Inquiry, the Commissions have formed the view that the specialisation of key individuals and institutions is crucial to improving the interaction in practice of legal frameworks governing family violence, including sexual assault in a family violence context. This chapter considers ways to foster and improve the effectiveness of specialised family violence courts and specialised police units with the aim of producing safe, fair and just outcomes for victims and their families.

32.2 This chapter focuses in particular on specialised family violence courts. The term ‘specialised court’ can be used to refer to a number of things. For example, the term can be used to refer to separate stand alone courts that deal only with a particular subject matter—such as the Family Court of Australia— which ‘specialises’ in matters under the Family Law Act 1975 (Cth). Children’s courts, similarly, may be considered as specialised courts dealing with child related matters. There are, however, no stand alone specialised family violence courts in Australia.

32.3 In courts that deal with a range of subject matters, there can be a division or special program embedded within existing court structures that deals with a particular subject matter. For example, in Victoria, there is the Family Violence Division of the Magistrates’ Court of Victoria. In other instances, a court may operate a ‘specialised list’, in which certain categories of cases are heard on certain days of the week, often by dedicated judges. Both these types of ‘specialised courts’ are common in the Australian legal system.

32.4 Many specialised courts simply operate as a matter of practice, and their structures are established through administrative mechanisms. However, some specialised courts may be expressly established by legislation.[1]

32.5 In this chapter, the Commissions use the term specialised family violence courts as a general description to refer to a division, program, specialised list or a specialist family violence court room within existing state or territory magistrates or local courts set up to deal with family violence.

32.6 The Commissions make no recommendations in this chapter for establishment of specialised sexual assault courts or specialised child sexual assault courts. The Terms of Reference direct the Commissions to consider sexual assault in the family violence context. In Chapter 26, the Commissions express the view that where sexual assault occurs in the family violence context, it should be considered and dealt with as family violence.

[1] The Family Violence Court Division of the Magistrates’ Court of Victoria has its own legislative basis, and is discussed below.