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Victorian judicial system “failing” victims of family violence

The Age newspaper has reported on just how significant the problem of family violence has become in the state of Victoria.

Despite the State Government investing more than $90 million this year towards preventing family violence, there have been numerous incidents in which serial offenders have repeatedly breached intervention orders issued by the courts.

The Sunday Age quoted Victorian Police data from the past financial year, which revealed that:

– More than 820 offenders breached intervention orders at least three times;
– 200 of the 820 offenders violated orders more than five times and 15 committed more than 10 separate breaches in one year; and
– 88 people were charged with breaching an order three times in just 28 days.

The newspaper also noted that the courts are processing a record number of breaches – that is, more than 12,000 last year.

They noted that, as a result, the judicial system is “overworked” and that courts “struggle to process” the breaches. This has resulted in the failure of protecting victims of family violence, as abusers are able to harass victims while still awaiting trial for previous breaches.

There is currently a notable focus on family violence in Victoria, where family violence cases have been making headlines for months – particularly after the death of 11-year-old Luke Batty earlier this year.

Last week, the Victorian government also proposed new laws relating to family violence that would make it a crime to not disclose a case of child sexual abuse. The crime carries a maximum three-year imprisonment term.

The proposed laws contain a specific exemption for people who fail to report child sex abuse because they feel their safety is threatened – however, victim support groups are still concerned that the mothers of abused children will be too scared to report their abusive partners, and that these women may end up being unfairly jailed.

Victim support groups are also highly concerned that, despite new laws being put in place, there is still not enough focus on just how dangerous family violence can be.

The Age quoted Fiona McCormack, chief executive of Domestic Violence Victoria, who referred to there being 29 family-violence-related deaths in Victoria alone last year:

If we saw that many people being killed on public transport I think there would be a lot more of a response.

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Batkin & Batkin: Mother to be arrested if she continues to disobey orders

The recent family law case of Batkin & Batkin [2013] FamCA 44 involved a separated couple and three children that had been born of the relationship.

The trial initially came before Justice Murphy in November 2011.  At the time, Murphy J adjourned the parenting trial until February 2013, and made interim parenting orders by consent of the parties (referred to as the 2011 Orders).

The aim of the 2011 Orders was to reintroduce the father into the lives of the children; they’d had no direct time with him for over four years, due to a “longstanding dysfunctional relationship” between the parents.

The 2011 Orders included orders to engage with a therapist, and follow directions given by the therapist, with a view to re-establishing the relationship between the children and the father.

However, at the commencement of the final trial of parenting proceedings in February 2013, affidavit evidence submitted by the therapist disclosed that:

 

  • the mother had opted out of the counselling process following the 2011 Orders, and that she had indicated to the therapist by way of SMS message that this was “because the boys do not wish to see their father”; and
  • the boys did not express any concern about spending time with their father, they appeared more to be echoing the views of their mother rather than expressing their own independently-formed opinions.

In reviewing the evidence, the Court observed that the mother “appears to have a complete block so far as recognising the needs of [the] children to be able to form their own views of their father”.

As a result, Justice Kent was concerned that the boys had no opportunity to form their own views of the father; they had simply “regurgitate[d] the views expressed by the mother…and…her negative views of [the father].”

As a consequence, Justice Kent was concerned not to make final parenting orders in the matter until the father had a proper opportunity to re-engage with the lives of his sons, and to demonstrate to the Court that spending unsupervised time with them was in their best interests.

The Court therefore adjourned the final hearing and made interim parenting orders, which included:

  • the father would spend four hours per month supervised time with the boys at a nominated contact centre; and
  • at the end of six months, a report would be produced about the outcome of the father’s time with the boys to assess the father’s wish to graduate ultimately to unsupervised time with the boys each alternate weekend.

To ensure that the mother did not continue to obstruct the process, Kent J also included orders which provided that a warrant be issued for the mother’s arrest should she not deliver the boys to the contact centre at the times required.

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