Vulnerable witness protection

The case for protecting vulnerable witnesses in family law proceedings

BenchTV - vulnerable witnesses

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There is a strong need for legislative protection in the Family Law Act 1975 (Cth) to prevent victims/survivors of family violence from being directly cross-examined by their alleged abusers as well as having to directly cross-examine their alleged abusers in family law proceedings.

This is an issue that survivors of family violence, the national network of Women’s Legal Services, Rosie Batty and many others have been advocating on for a number of years and was raised at the recent Violence against Women and Children COAG Summit.

Janet Loughman, Principal Solicitor Women’s Legal Service NSW and Angela Lynch, Community Education and Legal Reform Lawyer, Women’s Legal Service Qld discuss the issue on Benchtv.

In this conversation, Angela describes being contacted by “Eleanor” who spoke about being protected from direct cross-examination by her violent abuser in state family violence protection order and criminal proceedings but not in family law proceedings.  Eleanor described the deep psychological impact this had and contacted Angela to ask that something be done about this.

Since then Women’s Legal Services Australia has conducted a survey of 330 women regarding family violence and the impact of direct cross-examination in family law proceedings. Angela discusses the findings of this survey and the deep impact direct cross-examination has on victims of violence:

“39% of matters settled before judgment and of these 45% of respondents said the prospective fear of being directly cross-examined by their perpetrator was a significant factor in why they settled. So women may be settling on terms that are not in the best interest of children due to fear of being directly cross-examined by the perpetrator”.

Angela also acknowledges:

“If the court is going to make decisions in the best interests of children, the court requires the best evidence.  This process of allowing direct cross-examination is not a process where you’re going to be able to get the best evidence”.

Janet discusses existing protections from direct cross-examination of vulnerable witnesses in criminal and civil jurisdictions in Australia as well as current protections available under the Family Law Act.

The complexities of the issues and possible solutions are explored.

Both Angela and Janet conclude there is a very strong need for legislative protection in the Family Law Act to prevent victims/survivors of family violence from being directly cross examined by an alleged abuser.

Watch the Benchtv conversation.

Find out more about the Women’s Legal Services Australia and Rosie Batty Safety First in Family Law campaign.

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