Friday March 31, 2023
Despite an increase in family violence, legal services remain unfunded in Geelong Specialist Family Violence Court.
Geelong is one of seven Magistrates’ Court jurisdictions to not have received funding to support victim-survivors and applicants attending the new Specialist Family Violence Court (SFVC).
The objective of SFVCs is to improve the safety of victim survivors of family violence and to strengthen accountability mechanisms for people who use family violence through the court process.
The SFVC opened at Geelong Magistrates’ Court in October 2022, but unlike five previous SFVCs, funding was not set aside for provision of legal services, resulting in unequal access to services depending on where people live.
Barwon Community Legal Service (BLCS) has been using funding from elsewhere to meet family violence intervention order (FVIO) Duty Lawyer services at Geelong Magistrates’ Court but this funding will cease in June 2023.
If specific SFVC funding isn’t made available by June, BCLS will be unable to provide adequate assistance to those using the SFVC.
“We need the State Government to prioritise funding for legal assistance services to effectively deliver the SFVC Legal Practice Model as it is designed.” says Bryanna Connell, CEO of Barwon Community Legal Service.
“People with family violence legal needs deserve to have access to the same high quality legal services, no matter their postcode” says Ms Connell.
“Specialist Family Violence Courts are a welcomed initiative, but they’re not being funded and therefore implemented as intended. This just feels like a tick the box exercise.”
Further, Geelong Magistrates’ Court was the only newly established SFVC that did not receive funding for an Early Resolution Service in the 2021-22 and 2022-23 budgets, despite requests from the Federation of Community Legal Centres and Victoria Legal Aid.
The pre-court service model promotes early resolution of FVIO matters (where possible) to reduce the need for victim-survivors having to attend court and aims to give clients more time to understand the process and identify opportunities to safely resolve their matter. The pre-court service model also aims to alleviate pressure on the duty lawyer service at court, giving lawyers time to spend with clients prior to court, particularly, for clients with complex matters.
“It’s puzzling as to why Geelong missed out. MCV data shows that the number of family violence matters heard at Barwon South West Magistrate’s Courts increased by 38% from 2020-21 to 2021-22.” said Ms Connell.
“We are concerned that resourcing constraints will adversely impact families experiencing family violence who are engaging with the court system, leading to delays in resolving family violence matters in court which could exacerbate court waiting times, and potentially contribute to the safety risks for victim survivors and their children.”
“If we don’t receive funding for SFVCs, or at the very least interim funding to retain the staff we do have, we will have to cut back on lawyers and services, resulting in victim survivors missing out on legal representation.”
“This will have a significant impact on the well-being of our already hardworking community lawyers and support staff. We won’t be able to meet demand, we’ll need to turn away clients and waitlists will grow. It will take a toll.”
Family Violence incidents in Greater Geelong grew by 11.2% from 2021 to 2022 (Crime Statistics Agency). Greater Geelong has significantly higher incidences of family violence per 100,000, (1,684), when compared to the Victorian average of 1,400.
SFVC were established in line with the recommendation of the Royal Commission into Family Violence (the Commission). The objective is to improve the safety of victim survivors of family violence and to strengthen accountability mechanisms for people who use family violence through the court process. Without adequate funding for services the SFVCs do not meet the objectives of the Royal Commission.
Victoria Legal Aid and Community Legal Centres supporting the five existing SFVCs (Frankston, Shepparton, Ballarat, Moorabbin and Heidelberg) received specific, multi-year funding in 2019/2020 to provide people with intensive and tailored support to negotiate safer outcomes at court. The interim evaluation of the initial five SFVCs has been released, with the following quote:
‘We designed the model to ensure clients at SFVC locations received high-quality legal services that are safe to use and easy to access. I’m pleased the interim evaluation shows we’re well on track,’ said Leanne Sinclair, Associate Director, Family Violence Response, Victoria Legal Aid.
The seven new SFVCs are Geelong, Melbourne, Sunshine, Broadmeadows, Ringwood, Dandenong and Latrobe Valley.
Barwon Community Legal Service is an independent Community Legal Service that is funded by the State and Federal Governments to provide free legal information, advice, and casework to members of our local community.
For all media enquiries contact Bryanna Connell, Chief Executive Officer on 1300 430 599 or firstname.lastname@example.org