Several elements of specialised family violence courts appear capable of being adopted in other courts as ‘best practice’. First, it would appear efficient for proceedings relating to protection orders and, potentially, criminal proceedings related to family violence to be listed on the same day, where the caseload permits . The Commissions understand that this is already the practice in many courts. It may also be worth reviewing whether related claims (in, for example, child support and family law) can also be listed at the same time. As part of this review, it is also desirable for courts to review their capacity to identify and deal with family violence-related matters in their general lists, such as in bail applications.
If such listing practices are adopted, it would also be possible for the courts to facilitate the presence of victim support workers on those days, including legal aid lawyers. In addition, defendant support workers could also be employed. In Chapter 19, the Commissions propose that state and territory governments should, to the extent feasible, make victim support workers available at court proceedings related to family violence, and at the time the police are called out to family violence incidents. Of course, this requires additional funding. However, where there are victim support organisations in the region which already offer court support services, general courts could immediately facilitate the provision of court support by providing, for example, an office and other institutional support.
Assigning selected judicial officers to work on cases related to family violence may also be cost-effective, depending on the caseload of the court. This would likely provide an immediate benefit in terms of improving consistency and, provided the selection was done carefully, is likely also to improve the treatment of victims. If the caseload justifies it, specialised police and prosecutors could also be assigned. This would potentially result in long-term efficiencies. For example, it would be efficient to target training towards those dedicated to this work, rather than training all judicial officers.
Another practice that may be worth adopting is the use of practice directions for family violence cases. The ACT Magistrates Court uses a Practice Direction that sets out timelines for stages in the process and, in particular, specifies the information that is required at particular stages in the process. The Local Court in NSW has also adopted a shorter practice direction, which also sets out a timeframe for certain stages in the process. Similarly, a practice note in the New Zealand family violence courts sets a timetable for family violence prosecutions to minimise delay. The adoption of similar practice directions elsewhere may be one way of ensuring more timely dispositions of family violence cases. Such practice directions should enable courts to provide victims with some guidance as to the usual duration of court proceedings related to family violence.
Courts generally could also review existing court facilities and practices with a view to improving victim safety at court. For example, the use of separate exits and entrances, the use of a separate waiting room for victims, and the use of escorts to and from the courtroom may be ways of increasing victim safety.
Finally, another practice used in specialised courts that could be developed in courts generally is the establishment of a forum for feedback from, and discussion with, other agencies and non-government organisations. Many courts already have court users groups for this purpose.
In the view of the Commissions, there is likely to be considerable benefit in state and territory governments reviewing whether, and to what extent, these features have been adopted in the courts in their jurisdiction dealing with family violence, with a view to adopting them.
Proposal 20–5 State and territory governments should review whether, and to what extent, the following features have been adopted in the courts in their jurisdiction dealing with family violence, with a view to adopting them:
- identifying, and listing on the same day, protection order matters and criminal proceedings related to family violence, as well as related family law act and child protection matters;
- providing victim and defendant support, including legal advice, on family violence list days;
- assigning selected and trained judicial officers to work on cases related to family violence;
- adopting practice directions for family violence cases;
- ensuring that facilities and practices secure victim safety at court; and
- establishing a forum for feedback from, and discussion with, other agencies and non-government organisations.