Here we are halfway through 2018, and finally there is clarity on the situation regarding the cross-examination of family violence victims by their alleged abuser when going through proceedings in the family courts: the practice of cross-examination of abuse victims by offenders will no longer be permitted.
This change has been years in the making, raised for many years now, for example the Sydney Morning Herald discussed the call to stop the practice back in 2015, and we previously wrote about the issue on our blog in 2016.
The issue was also raised last May in Budget 2017, with the then-attorney-general George Brandis foreshadowed an amendment to the Family Law Act to happen “soon”.
So it is welcome news to hear that current attorney-general Christian Porter has now announced that family violence offenders will no longer be allowed to question abuse victims in the family courts.
Mr Porter said:
“For those very small number of cases where there are clear allegations or indeed convictions of violence, the perpetrator of the violence should not be able to cross-examine the victim of the violence.”
Until now, cross-examination of abuse victims by self-represented litigants during family law proceedings has been possible under certain circumstances. However, the need to protect victims from further trauma has led to community anger at the practice.
Victim support groups have long been concerned over the practice of cross-examination of abuse victims by their alleged abuser, arguing it is using the court system to prolong the abuse. Angela Lynch of Women’s Legal Services Australia said “it was not a case of denying alleged abusers their day in court, but argued the practice of direct cross-examination meant the court was not getting the full picture of abuse because victims would hold back on sharing all information”.
One woman recalled her experience of cross-examination by her abuser:
“When I turned up for the Family Court hearing, I found out on the day that he had become a self-litigant, and that he was going to be representing himself, and that he was going to be given the privilege of being able to cross-examine me directly. Why would they give someone the power over their victim like that? Why would they give him the right to cross-examine me in court, knowing the trauma that women have faced?”
“In the very same court room, only a couple of weeks before, a judge had actually said it was unsafe for him to be within 200 metres of me. And then in the very same court room, with a different court, they then said it was appropriate for him to be able to cross-examine me directly.”
The new amendments will require that extra protection be put in place in courtrooms for alleged victims, such as screens and video links. If the court’s discretion allows questioning, it will be done by a lawyer, including Legal Aid lawyers.
The question of whether increased funding for additional Legal Aid lawyers will now be needed has not yet been addressed.
Do you need family law advice? Please contact Canberra family lawyer Cristina Huesch or one of our other experienced solicitors here at Alliance Legal Services on (02) 6223 2400.
Please note our blogs are not legal advice. For information on how to obtain the correct legal advice, please contact Alliance Legal Services.