17 Nov The Lighthouse Project & the “Evatt’s List” in the FCC: A Response to Family Violence.
There is no doubt that the year 2020 has been a challenging year for many people. A loss of family support, unemployment, financial hardship and mental health issues have impacted people in ways that were previously unimaginable. These issues have also impacted on the occurrence, complexity, and severity of family violence in Australia.
In response to the growing rates of family violence and as a commitment to families who have or are at risk of experiencing family violence, the Family Court of Australia and the Federal Circuit Court of Australia have introduced a new project called “the Lighthouse Project”, that will screen for risk, with the primary focus on how to improve outcomes for at risk families within the family law system.
View this project on the Drum: https://iview.abc.net.au/show/drum/series/0/video/NC2007H224S00
The Lighthouse Project will have three main priorities:
- Early screening of at-risk families, identification and management of safety concerns;
- Assessment and triage of cases by a specialised team, who will provide resources and safe and suitable case management; and
- Referring high-risk cases to a dedicated court list, known as the Evatt List in the FCC.
The Lighthouse Project is the Courts’ response to calls for the family law system to better address and respond to family violence and other safety risks.
Recommendations for reforms of this kind have been made in successive reports including:
- Chisholm Report for the Attorney-General’s Department (2009)
- Law Council Report on Families with Complex Needs (2015)
- Henderson Parliamentary Inquiry (2017), and
- Australian Law Reform Commission Discussion Paper – Review of the Family Law System (2018).
What constitutes Family Violence is wide ranging. The term can be used to describe complex patterns of behaviour and can include acts of violence, threats or intimidation, as well as coercive and/or controlling behaviour. It can include physical assaults, sexual assaults, psychological harm, social isolation, financial control, damage to property or to pets, as well as any other behaviour that is intended to cause fear in another person. The definition of family violence in the Family Law Act can be found here: FAMILY LAW ACT 1975 – SECT 4AB Definition of family violence etc. (austlii.edu.au)
Family Violence can happen to anyone. It can happen in any community or culture and people who are wealthy or highly educated are not immune from experiencing it. It can occur to both men and women. Statistics tell us that you will know more than one person who is (or has) experienced family violence.
Both the Federal Circuit Court of Australia and the Family Court of Australia understand that there is often a connection between the breakdown of a relationship and family violence. They also recognise the adverse impact of family violence on children who are exposed to it, as well as the primary victim of the violence.
In 2011, the Family Law Act underwent several changes in recognition of the breadth of behaviour that may constitute family violence. The definition of family violence in the Family Law Act was widened, to include behaviour that was coercive and controlling and the definition of child abuse was amended in order to explicitly recognise the psychological harm children were exposed to if they have experienced or subjected to family violence.
A recent survey conducted by the Australian Institute of Criminology in July 2020 found that almost 10% of Australian women had experienced domestic violence by their partners during the COVID19 pandemic. Since November 2020, over 48 women have died in Australia – which includes over 35 were directly related to domestic violence from an intimate partner.
Those who have been working in the Family Violence advocacy space have indicated that 2020 has been the worst year for domestic violence that they can remember. Hayley Foster, the Chief Executive of Women’s Safety, NSW told the Guardian that “There [have been] just so many more strangulation cases, so many threats to kill, so many more serious head injuries, and sexual assaults [have been] going through the roof”.
There has been an unprecedented demand on referrals to support services for those experiencing domestic violence; however, there are concerns that there may be many more people who are experiencing domestic violence and who do not have the means to access support or information. Rita Butera, the Chief Executive of the Safe Steps Domestic Violence Crisis Support in Melbourne expressed these concerns: “If you’re in lock-in and you need to call for help but you’re under 24/7 surveillance [by a perpetrator], you’ve got no exit, you’ve got no place to go. You can’t go to your friend’s place, you can’t go drive the kids to school, because there’s no school”.
The Lighthouse Project will initially be piloted in the Federal Circuit Court of Australia in Adelaide, Brisbane and Parramatta to be extended to the Family Court of Australia in 2021. It is hoped that the Courts will receive additional funding to implement the program on a Federal level.
More information regarding the Lighthouse project can be found here: The Lighthouse Project – Family Court of Australia
IF YOU ARE EXPERIENCING FAMILY VIOLENCE (OR KNOW SOMEONE WHO IS), it is imperative that you obtain legal and safety planning advice as soon as possible.
The Family Lawyers at Shelly Legal have experience in complex family violence proceedings in both the Federal Circuit Court of Australia and the Family Court of Australia. We often work with other professionals, such as Counsellor’s, Domestic Violence Services and Psychologists to ensure your family law matter is addressed both safely and holistically.
Contact us here to arrange a 15-minute obligation free and confidential appointment with our experienced family lawyers.