THE federal Government has missed the point on family violence and family law, according to a peak body representing Victorian lawyers.
The Law Institute of Victoria sent out the following release today:
The Federal Government review of family court processes and family violence must be backed up by more legal aid dollars if it is to have any effect, according to the Law Institute of Victoria.
LIV Family Law section chair Stephen Winspear congratulated the Government for setting up the review, but said the current shortfall of funding affected families chances of justice in the courts.
"Children, women and men in the most difficult family law cases do not get proper legal representation through Legal Aid," Mr Winspear said.
He said the Court was not always capable of protecting vulnerable children because it often does not have enough evidence before it.
Legal aid funding from the Federal Government has been slashed for family law matters so that there is not enough funding for Independent Children's Lawyers and there is insufficient funding to allow legal representatives to do the work required to represent children.
Mr Winspear said family law cases often involve the most difficult decisions about children and who they should live with, particularly if the parents are incapable or unwilling to come to an agreement.
He said the Attorney General also correctly drew attention to the difficulties that can arise because of the overlap between the Federal family law system, and the State child protection system.
He said the very worst family law cases involve child protection type cases (similar to that of Daniel Valerio) where constant involvement of welfare professionals is essential, as were lawyers to help put the facts before the Court.
"Women from long standing abusive relationships often have great difficulty articulating their own case. It is absolutely essential that they have legal help to do that," Mr Winspear said.
He said there were also situations where women with mental illness have made ill founded allegations against the father whose contact with children is immediately ceased.
"So many of these most complex cases are not adequately supported in the courts, because either the mother or father is not legally represented, or the Independent Children's Lawyer is not funded properly".
The ICL investigates how a child is performing at school, what injuries are recorded at the doctor, what the childcare centre says about the child, what the psychiatrists and psychologists say about the parents and children, and they put this evidence before the court.
"Without it the courts are making decisions in the dark. Often the parents of these children are not able to articulate the problems and professional assistance is essential to protect these families," he said.
Mr Winspear said the LIV welcomed the Attorney-General's suggestion that matters with serious abuse be dealt with more urgently through the family law system as these cases can currently take up to two years to get through the family law system.
"The government needs to add tens of millions of dollars to legal aid funding so that children and women are protected," he said.