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A-G, FCFCOA launch ‘ambitious’ D/FV safety initiative

The Lighthouse Project, a family violence and safety initiative, seeks to improve court processes in the management of family violence cases and aims to prevent associated violence and deaths. 

user iconJess Feyder 06 December 2022 Big Law
A-G, FCFCOA launch ‘ambitious’ D/FV safety initiative
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After several pilots of the Lighthouse project, the federal government has decided to invest in nationwide expansion of the project. 

Yesterday (5 December) marked the launch of the project by federal Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus KC. 

“On average, one woman a week is murdered by her current or former partner in Australia. We must do better,” stated the A-G.

 
 

Investment in the Lighthouse Project comes as part of a 10-year national plan set out by the Albanese government to end gendered violence, Mr Dreyfus stated. 

“The plan is ambitious. It must be,” he stated. 

“It’s critical the system protects those at risk of family violence at the earliest point possible, including children and young people.

“The Albanese government is funding a national rollout of the Lighthouse Project.”

The Lighthouse Project seeks to reform the court system by focusing on the safety of children and victims in addressing issues of family violence and other risks in family law cases. 

The Lighthouse model brings several new functions to the courts:

  • Early risk screening through a secure online platform at the point of filing;
  • Early identification and management of family safety risks; 
  • Assessment and triage of cases by a team of highly qualified specialists who will provide support and refer the party to support services (both legal and non-legal support, such as social support, counselling, or mental health support); and 
  • Safe and tailored case management for the family, which includes referring high-risk cases to a dedicated court list, known as the Evatt List. 
The Family DOORS Triage questionnaire is provided to parties shortly after filing their first court documents and is a confidential risk-screening process that helps to identify a range of safety risks, including family violence, child abuse or neglect, mental health issues, or drug and alcohol abuse. 

The questionnaire provides an opportunity for self-identifying risk. It facilitates responsiveness to serious risk issues and allows for referrals to legal and social support. Its other function is to place the parties onto the most appropriate case management pathway, based on identified risks and needs. 

The questionnaire aids the courts and family law practitioners by enhancing the understanding of and response to present risk factors at the very beginning of the court process.

The screening responses collected are confidential and inadmissible in court under the Family Law Act 1975 (Cth) to ensure parties can freely and confidentially participate in the risk-screening process without fear that the information may be used against them in other contexts. 

In addition to the introduction of this advanced screening process, the Lighthouse project also involves the creation of the Evatt List to address high-risk matters. 

The Evatt List, created by the Family Court, seeks to ensure that children and victims in high-risk cases are provided with prioritised resources and support. 

The Evatt List brings involvement of dedicated specialised teams, including skilled and trained senior judicial registrars, judicial registrars, and court child experts who consult with judges and have close oversight over matters. 

The Evatt List focuses on early information gathering, intensive support focused on safety and wellbeing, tailored case management, and prioritised resources. 

“Initiatives such as the Lighthouse Project show what can be achieved when we work together to combat gender-based violence,” Mr Dreyfus stated. 

“The Lighthouse Project has seen a fundamental shift in the way the courts identify and manage risks to family safety. It shows we can do better. 

“This world-leading initiative helps shape the allocation of resources and the urgency given to cases based on a safety risk assessment.

“Where parties or children are identified as being at higher risk, co-located child protection and policing officials assist the courts by facilitating the timely sharing of family violence information held by their agencies. 

“As I’m sure everyone here would appreciate, this prompt information sharing can be crucial in high-risk matters. 

“The success of the Lighthouse Project is how it has been seamlessly integrated into the court’s other measures to improve case management and responses to family violence in the family law system.

“The Albanese government is proud to be investing in the expansion of the Lighthouse Project.”

The Honourable Will Alstergren AO, chief justice of the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia, commented on the severity of the matter: “We simply cannot accept that fact that in our society, one woman a week is murdered by a current or former partner.

“We cannot accept that one child is killed every 14 days.”

Hayley Foster, chief executive of Full Stop Australia, commented on the collaboration that occurred in the formulation of the Lighthouse Project. 

“Never have myself or my colleagues felt so respected and listened to and had our advice taken on board,” said Ms Foster. 

“Our judicial processes continue to work against women and children experiencing violence,” stated Rosie Batty AO, former Australian of the Year and domestic violence prevention advocate.

“I am so thrilled we now have a culture of being able to collaboratively come together and work on these solutions. We don’t want to be advocating for another 10 or 20 or 30 years,” stated Ms Batty. “This Lighthouse program is such an essential path.”