Framework for reform

The specific objective of this Inquiry is to improve safety for women and children in the context of family violence through recommendations for reform of legal frameworks. In this context, the idea of ‘frameworks’ extends beyond law in the form of legislative instruments to include education, information sharing and other measures to improve police and prosecutorial practice. The overall touchstones throughout the chapters and recommendations, however, are to improve safety and that ensure that where laws are in place, that they need to work well.

Development of the reform response

Commitment to widespread consultation is a hallmark of best practice law reform. In undertaking the Inquiry, and in developing a comprehensive response to the Terms of Reference, the Commissions embarked on a wide consultative process as described in Chapter 1. For this Inquiry, a multi-faceted consultation strategy was required—using a broad mix of face-to-face consultations and roundtable discussions; online communication tools and the release of a Consultation Paper together with a companion Consultation Paper Summary.

Two hundred and thirty-six consultations were conducted nationally to reach key stakeholders around the country, including many groups representing Indigenous clients. Internet communication tools were also integrated into the consultation process, to provide information and obtain comment. A monthly e-newsletter highlighted an ‘issue in focus’ and the comments received provided an important additional input. By the end of the Inquiry there were 965 subscribers to the e-newsletter.

The Consultation Paper was a major publication, running to 1,018 pages. To facilitate stakeholder contributions in the restricted time frame for this Inquiry, the Commissions simultaneously released a Consultation Paper Summary of 243 pages. However, the enduring nature of law reform projects is such that the research and evidence base, on which recommendations are based, must be fully explored and reported—and in a complex and extensive Inquiry such as this, substantial documentation is inevitable.

Principles for reform

The framework for reform in this Inquiry is set out in Chapter 3. In summary, the recommendations in this Report are underpinned by four specific principles or policy aims that relevant legal frameworks in this Inquiry should express: seamlessness, accessibility, fairness and effectiveness:

  1. Seamlessness—to ensure that the legal framework is as seamless as possible from the point of view of those who engage with it.
  2. Accessibility—to facilitate access to legal and other responses to family violence.
  3. Fairness—to ensure that legal responses to family violence are fair and just, holding those who use family violence accountable for their actions and providing protection to victims.
  4. Effectiveness—to facilitate effective interventions and support in circumstances of family violence.

The reform principles are reflected in an interlinking suite of recommendations addressing both Terms of Reference, plus a specific set in relation to particular aspects of the second Term of Reference. The principles express, at a policy level, the foundation of the recommendations.

Summary of key recommendations

The recommendations themselves can be viewed from two distinct perspectives—a systems perspective, and a participant perspective. The overarching, or predominant principle is that of seamlessness, and to achieve this both perspectives must be connected, to the greatest extent possible, within the constitutional and practical constraints of a federal system. This seamlessness is expressed in recommendations focused on improving legal frameworks and improving practice.

The improvement of legal frameworks will be achieved through:

  • a common interpretative framework, core guiding principles and objects, and a better and shared understanding of the meaning, nature and dynamics of family violence that may permeate through the various laws involved when issues of family violence arise;
  • corresponding jurisdictions, so that those who experience family violence may obtain a reasonably full set of responses, at least on an interim basis, at whatever point in the system they enter, within the constraints of the division of power under the Australian Constitution;
  • improved quality and use of evidence; and
  • better interpretation or application of sexual assault laws.

The improvement of practice will be achievedthrough:

  • specialisation—bringing together, as far as possible, a wide set of jurisdictions to deal with most issues relating to family violence in one place, by specialised magistrates supported by a range of specialised legal and other services;
  • education and training;
  • the development of a national family violence bench book;
  • the development of more integrated responses;
  • information sharing and better coordination overall, so that the practice in responding to family violence will become less fragmented; and
  • the establishment of a national register of relevant court orders and other information.