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WA Magistrates Court failing family violence victims

The Magistrates Court of Western Australia is failing to manage an increasing level of family and domestic violence-related matters, a parliamentary committee report has found.

user iconTony Zhang 17 August 2020 Big Law
Peter Katsambanis
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The report, from the community development and justice standing committee, was tabled in the lower house on Thursday and made 84 findings and 72 recommendations after a year-long inquiry.

Incidents of family and domestic violence (FDV) are increasing, applications to the court by victims for family violence restraining orders (FVRO) are increasing and the system is groaning at the seams,” committee chair Peter Katsambanis said.

We’ve heard over the COVID period in particular that the prevalence of family and domestic violence is increasing and that is horrifying.

 
 

This is beyond urgent. This is at a critical stage.”

Mr Katsambanis added that while there had been a commitment across government to tackle the problem for the past decade or so, efforts had fallen short.

Furthermore the report revealed that while there are options to reduce delays, such as greater use of videolink technology in regional areas, ultimately the court needs more magistrates, and associated staff, to hear matters promptly.

“In recent years there has been significant growth in the number of FVRO applications made to the court, without a corresponding increase in resources. Increasing the number of magistrates and staff will have the biggest effect on reducing time to trial,” Mr Katsambanis said.

We need to break the cycle, we need to open the doors up for victims to get proper justice, and we need to find ways to get perpetrators to change their behaviour.”

The report stated that legal representation is essential to the FVRO process, yet at present, there are insufficient free or low-cost legal services available for applicants, and such services are almost completely unavailable for respondents.

“Importantly, making legal services available for respondents can potentially diffuse tension, reduce FVRO breaches and help matters reach a timely resolution,” report findings stated.

“Similarly, support services are critically important for people affected by family violence. Not only can appropriate services support a person through court processes, but the court itself can be a touchpoint for services providers.”

Mr Katsambanis said it was concerning that both the Family Violence Service and Victim Support Service in the metropolitan area, and the Victim Support and Child Witness Service in regional and remote areas, are underfunded and unable to provide the level of support needed by their clients.

According to the report, between 2016-17 and 2018-19 applications for FVROs increased by 38 per cent and crime statistics from WA Police have also demonstrated an increase in FDV-related incidents.

The inquiry heard from a number of organisations, service providers and individuals, many of whom raised the matter of lengthy wait times.

One case study cited in the report waited more than three years for a restraining order to be issued.

Mr Katsambanis said there was no single solution to the problem.

It needs a serious investment in both magistrates and staff support services, legal services and, importantly, training,” he said.

Family and domestic violence is complex, it manifests itself in many different ways.”

Indigenous family violence not improving 

The report also highlighted the ombudsman investigation finding Indigenous families comprised 33 per cent of victims of FDV offences. 

However, Aboriginal women applied for only 11 per cent of FDV‐related restraining orders whilst they are 45 times more likely to be victims of family violence. 

Mr Katsambanis said these statistics were extremely confronting and not good enough.

It was particularly upsetting to hear that Aboriginal women are 45 times more likely to be victims of family and domestic violence than non‐Aboriginal women,” Mr Kastambaris said.

We’re learning more and more about it, and there needs to be a commitment to ongoing training for magistrates so they can specialise in this area, and for all of the court staff as well as the people who are providing support services.

When you delve into those figures a bit further you find that although Aboriginal women are victims to around 33 per cent of all family and domestic violence offences, they only apply for family [violence-related] restraining orders around 11 per cent of the time.”