Thursday, 28 June 2018

 Protecting victims of family violence from cross-examination in family courts

Media release

Minister for Women
The Hon Kelly O'Dwyer MP

Attorney-General
The Hon Christian Porter MP

Victims of serious family violence will be protected from having to directly cross-examine or be cross-examined by perpetrators of violence during family law proceedings, under legislation to be introduced into Federal Parliament today by the Turnbull Government.

"There is no question that directly facing a perpetrator or alleged perpetrator of family violence compounds the trauma of that violence and can also impact on the ability of a victim to give clear evidence in legal proceedings," Attorney-General, Christian Porter, said.

"The Family Law Amendment (Family Violence and Cross-examination of Parties) Bill 2018 will prohibit direct cross examination in specific and serious circumstances to protect victims from re-traumatisation. This includes where there are convictions, charges or final family violence orders in place between the parties.

"Courts will also have discretion to prohibit direct cross-examination in cases where family violence is alleged and, if a court does not exercise that discretion, it will be mandatory for the court to apply other protections, such as the use of video links or screens in the court room.

"In cases where direct cross-examination is prohibited under these amendments, cross‑examination must be conducted by a legal representative. Naturally, parties will be able to obtain their own legal representation in these proceedings. However, parties will also have access to representation through legal aid commissions when that is not possible, and the Government is working closely with National Legal Aid regarding implementation of the Bill.

"Protection for victims of family violence in family law proceedings was identified as a key issue by the Council of Australian Governments' National Summit on Reducing Violence against Women and their Children."

Minister for Women, the Hon Kelly O'Dwyer MP, said "The Turnbull Government has zero tolerance to violence against women and has invested more than $300 million into programmes to improve women's safety. We are focused on practical measures that reduce the incidence of violence and, when it does occur, supports the victims and their children."

The incidence of direct cross-examination of victims of family violence is rare. Recent research by the Australian Institute of Family Studies found that there were 173 final hearings in the federal family law courts over two years between 2015 and 2017, involving allegations of family violence where one or both parties were self-represented.

"This Bill will provide confidence to victims that they will be protected during cross-examination, and is a further demonstration of the Turnbull Government's commitment to protecting families affected by family violence" the Attorney-General said.