Specialist Family Violence Courts and Family Violence Contact Centre
Fourth Action Plan actions
- Improve support and service system responses
- 17 Collaborate across services, sectors and workforces to ensure responses to women affected by domestic, family and sexual violence are coordinated, meet women’s needs, avoid women having to retell their story and promote their recovery.
What are we doing?
Specialist Family Violence Courts (SFVCs)
To progress Recommendation 60 of Victoria’s Royal Commission into Family Violence (RCFV), the Magistrates’ Court Act 1989 (Vic) was amended in 2018 to include the Specialist Family Violence Court Division.
The first Specialist Family Violence Court (SFVC) was launched at Shepparton in October 2019. Since then, SFVCs at Ballarat and Moorabbin have commenced operations. SFVC construction work at Heidelberg and Frankston have been completed and these locations will commence in 2021.
Central to the SFVCs’ success is an operating model to improve the Court’s response to family violence. The key features of the operating model include:
- infrastructure upgrades to provide a purpose-built environment that maximises safety and choice, including a separate entrance/exit for victim survivors, safe waiting areas and interview rooms, remote witness facilities and child friendly spaces;
- changes to listing and operating procedures that integrate risk assessment and management and prioritise the safety of families;
- additional funding for a specialised family violence team, which includes specially trained Magistrates, court registrars and family violence practitioners;
- additional funding to increase the number of places available in court ordered men’s behaviour change programs to hold perpetrators accountable;
- enhanced learning and development program for staff which includes a focus on pre-court engagement, referrals to appropriate services and community engagement; and
- integrated team of court staff, agencies and court based services that deliver a coordinated service response supported by strong operational governance and interagency engagement.
Umalek Balit, which means give strength in Woiwurrung, is the Court’s dedicated Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander family violence support program. Umalek Balit is designed to address the specific barriers faced by Aboriginal Victorians in participating in Victoria’s family violence justice system and offers culturally safe and appropriate, non-legal expertise regarding family violence matters. The service includes women’s and men’s practitioners who work with Aboriginal women and men to guide them through the court experience. Umalek Balit commenced at Melbourne’ Magistrates Court in November 2018, was expanded to Mildura in April 2019 and has been integrated into the new SFVCs at Shepparton and Ballarat. The program will be integrated into the Heidelberg SFVC when it commences operations in 2021.
In adopting a victim-centred approach to matters involving family violence, the SFVC operating model represents a significant shift in the way Courts and the justice system respond to family violence. The model is informed by the Magistrates’ Court of Victoria’s considerable knowledge and experience of family violence and the lived experience of court users.
The Family Violence Contact Centre (FVCC)
The FVCC responds to family violence-related phone and email enquiries on behalf of ten Magistrates’ Courts. The FVCC assists victim survivors to initiate proceedings and provides immediate referrals to dedicated support services.
The FVCC was established as a pilot, in part-response to Recommendation 63 of the RCFV, which proposed establishing an ‘e-registry’ as a central online file-management portal and an offsite contact centre for managing registry-related queries. The FVCC tests the efficacy of a centralised service to relieve demand pressure on courts, test progressive technology solutions, and trial innovative processes and ways of working.
The FVCC is now embedded in family violence operations across the courts it services. Since its commencement in May 2018 it has received 264,968 phone and email inquiries to February 2021.
- The Victorian Government provided $130.3 million between 2017/18 and 2020/21 to fund the Specialist Family Violence Integrated Court Response – which is funding the SFVCs and the FVCC, among other reform initiatives.
What have we achieved so far?
Specialist Family Violence Courts (SFVC) have commenced at the Shepparton, Ballarat, and Moorabbin Magistrates’ Courts to improve victim survivor access to justice and help hold perpetrators to account. Two more locations, Heidelberg and Frankston, are due to commence operations as SFVCs in mid 2021.
Recruitment and training of specialist staff and Magistrates is well advanced. Standard operating guidelines and employee training have been developed and implemented, with a comprehensive suite of family violence-related training opportunities available in partnership with the Judicial College of Victoria. Aculturally appropriate response for Koori families living with family violence has been developed and integrated into the operating model.
The FVCC currently supports Magistrates’ Courts at:
Since commencement, the FVCC has been taking approximately 7,500 enquiries per month. This number which increased to approximately 10,000 enquiries per month from March 2020 during the coronavirus pandemic. During the pandemic, the FVCC has seen an increased number of enquiries with 22,858 calls and emails in February 2021.
What is next?
SFVCs at Heidelberg and Frankston will commence operations in 2021.
Capital works at two further sites – Bendigo and Wyndham – have been funded by the Victorian Government.
The FVCC will continue to operate and is currently piloting a first-in-country technology solution that offers remote working capabilities with connectivity to Courtlink for secure data retrieval and collection.
What difference will we make?
Some key differences that SFVCs will make include:
- Increased places in Court mandated Men’s Behaviour Change Programs to hold perpetrators accountable;
- Infrastructure upgrades, including separate court room entrances/exits, safe waiting areas and interview rooms, remote witness facilities, culturally safe spaces and child friendly spaces;
- Stronger emphasis on consistency and standardised practices;
- Additional resourcing for the court-based specialist family violence team, including Magistrates, registry staff and family violence practitioners;
- Enhanced support for specialist roles through an ongoing learning and development program, a stronger focus on team wellbeing, and an emphasis on the leadership and management capability of senior positions;
- Consistent SFVC listings policy and practices across the Division, including capped family violence lists that bundle related family violence matters together where possible;
- Enhancement of central and local SFVC inter-agency governance arrangements to oversee operations, drive continuous improvement, strengthen service integration, and ensure greater consistency and cohesion across the Division; and
- Stronger emphasis on monitoring and continuous improvement, with more support for data collection, reporting and evaluation.