Family Violence and the Law for Future Lawyers
On the 3rd of December 2018 and the 17th January 2019, the VFLPN collaborated with the Women’s Legal Service Victoria (WLSV) to offer students a full-day interactive workshop focusing on the law as it relates to family violence. The workshop aimed to provide students with strategies and skills to effectively identify family violence, assess risk, skilfully ask the right questions and respond to client’s needs. There were 22 participants in attendance at the Cathedral Room of the CatholicCare building in East Melbourne, comprised of both internal (VFLPN volunteers) and external students (recruited by way of advertising to law schools).
The day’s learning outcomes were as follows:
Respond to clients experiencing family violence
Apply the Family Violence Protection Act 2008
Explain the family violence intervention order process
Explain how family violence intervention orders interact with family law orders and proceeding
The presenters began by demystifying some of the common beliefs, myths and misconceptions surrounding family violence. To break the ice, students were invited to participate in a game which involved matching up a myth with its corresponding truth.
The students were then introduced to Duluth’s seminal wheel of power and control, mapping out the dynamics of family violence and how it can manifest in various forms. This exercise sought to highlight that family violence does not simply encompass physical violence, but is a far broader concept premised on patterns of power and control. The participants then considered how other intersectional factors can further impact a woman’s experience of family violence and obstruct them from accessing legal assistance. Students formed small groups to brainstorm how and why these factors (such as disability, mental illness, migrant status, Indigenous identity, etc.) compound to create barriers for victim survivors. Finally, several case studies were explored to illustrate how these concepts play out in a practical sense.
The discussion then turned to common risk factors for both victims and perpetrators of family violence, as derived from the Family Violence Risk Assessment and Risk Management Framework (otherwise known as the CRAF manual). The presenters sequentially worked through the factors listed in the aide memoire, flagging some of the key ‘warning signs’ which students should be aware of for future practice. Notably, most students were aware that a victim is at increased risk of being killed during pregnancy or the period of new birth.
The second part of the workshop centred on the Family Violence Protection Act (Vic) 2008 with a focus on family violence intervention orders. The presenters set out the legislation’s framework by first reading through the Act’s preamble and purpose; serving as ‘powerful guides’ for the Act’s intended application.
The presenters then turned to the key definitions enshrined in the Act as relevant to the family violence intervention order process. They began by setting out two threshold questions:
Is the applicant a family member of the respondent?
Has the respondent’s behaviour constituted family violence in accordance with the Act?
Addressing the first limb, students considered a series of activities to identify whether particular individuals drawn from case studies could be defined as a ‘family member’ or ‘being like a family member’ as per the Family Violence Protection Act (Vic) 2008. Addressing the second limb, reference was then made to the legal definition of ‘family violence’ encapsulated in the Family Violence Protection Act (2008). Students worked through a further series of activities to identify whether particular behaviours would constitute family violence in accordance with the Act.
The speakers then launched into an in-depth discussion about the protections available under the Act prior to being granted an order by the Court, such as Family Violence Safety Notices and Interim orders. Nina and Kate encouraged the students to be mindful of these options for future practice, particularly the utility of interim orders in affording protection to a victim survivor prior to final orders being granted. They subsequently explained the criteria for final orders, alongside the different types of orders (e.g. safe contact orders, no contact orders) and common conditions placed upon orders.
Following on from this, the intersection between family law proceedings and family violence intervention orders was explored. The family law exceptions to ‘no contact’ orders under section 92 of the Family Law Act (Cth) 1985 were flagged as being of particular importance. These exceptions recognise the best interests of the child, for example by permitting communication between an affected family member and the respondent in regards to negotiating child arrangements or as per a parenting plan/order of the Family Court. Many questions flowed on from this discussion, being a particularly difficult area of family/violence law to navigate.
The speakers then looked at the family violence intervention orders processes and procedures, tracking through the different stages of hearings (mention, directions, contested) and the various outcomes available. Nina and Kate’s offered a tip to future lawyers, encouraging them to apply to strike out unfounded applications, such as where the perpetrator and victim have been misidentified. They cautioned that misidentification is becoming an increasing issue in this sphere and provided some constructive options for students should they come across this issue in future practice. To bring the information together, students then responded to a mock family intervention order.
The final topic for the day focused on working with perpetrators in a manner that prevents collusion. Accordingly, it is imperative that perpetrator tactics of justifying, denying, blaming, deflecting and pathologising behaviour are aptly identified by lawyers so as not to perpetuate violent mindsets. Students tackled a case study which focused on appropriate language and approach to utilise when interacting with perpetrators. Whilst considering perpetrators, the issue of intervention order breaches and the pivotal role of police was also explored. The speakers offered some tips when interacting with police and highlighted the importance of reporting every little breach to the authorities in order to paint a holistic picture of the violence.
The students then concluded the workshop with a ‘pop quiz’ to consolidate all the knowledge gained throughout the day.
Overall, students were receptive to the day’s training and gained a lot of practical knowledge which they can employ in future practice. Due to the high demand and utility of the training, the VFLPN will be replicating this event in January.
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