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VLRC: Country airs views

Every Issue

Cite as: (2004) 78(4) LIJ, p.83

While identifying problems, the VLRC’s consultations have also uncovered examples of regional agencies working together to improve the response to family violence.

As part of its review of the Crimes (Family Violence) Act 1987 (the Act), the Victorian Law Reform Commission (VLRC) has commenced a round of consultations across rural and regional Victoria. The aim of these consultations is to enable the VLRC to identify the range of issues and problems that impact on the operation of the Act, and that must be addressed in the review.

The first region visited by the VLRC was the Hume Region, where a series of forums and meetings were held in Shepparton, Benalla and Wangaratta in late February. During these consultations the VLRC obtained information and views from a broad range of service providers, court personnel and survivors of family violence. Some of the key issues and concerns raised were:

  • the responses of police, court staff, magistrates and service providers vary substantially, so that whether a person who has experienced family violence gets an appropriate and helpful response depends on which individual they encounter;
  • there is widespread difficulty in having intervention orders enforced;
  • there is a broad perception among service providers that criminal violence which occurs in the context of family violence is not treated as a criminal matter; and
  • people who require protection from family violence often do not access legal advice or support before going to court, and most people seeking an intervention order do not have a good understanding about the process or the consequences involved in obtaining an order.

Despite the number of problems raised, the visit to the Hume Region provided the VLRC with an example of agencies working together at a local level to improve the system’s response to family violence.

Various regions around Victoria are trialing “integration” models of service delivery for family violence. These projects have arisen from a recognition that the effectiveness of service provision to people who experience family violence is hampered by the fragmented nature of the service system.

One such project is the Wangaratta Family Violence Integration Project.[1] The project began more than 12 months ago, and is funded by a grant from the Department of Human Services Rural Health Innovative Practice Fund. The grant funds a project worker for a 12-month period. A working group was also established, comprising police, the Cooroonya Domestic Violence Crisis Support Service, Central Hume Domestic Violence Service, Wangaratta Magistrates’ Court, Victims Assistance Program, Women’s Health Goulburn North-East and the local community legal centre. The group meets regularly to conduct an open examination of the service system, share information about their roles, and look at ways to work together to create a seamless service for women and others who experience family violence.

The Wangaratta project incorporates a “fax back” system to integrate delivery of services by local service providers, including the police, family violence workers and the Court.

It has been developed through the cooperation and willing participation of each of the service providers, who wanted an improved and integrated response to family violence.

As part of the project, the police have developed new procedures. When the police attend a family violence incident, they speak separately with the person who has experienced violence and the perpetrator. The victim is advised about local family violence services and asked whether she would like a worker to contact her. If she agrees, the police ask her when is the best time for the worker to contact her, note this on a form, and have the victim sign the form. Obtaining signed permission from the victim overcomes privacy concerns, and asking when the worker should contact her overcomes safety concerns.

When the police return to the station, the form is faxed to Cooroonya House, a local specialised domestic violence agency. A worker from the agency faxes the police to confirm they have received the information and will act on the referral. This part of the “fax back” system commenced in April 2002.

In July 2002 the Wangaratta Magistrates’ Court also became involved in the project. Many people attend court to obtain intervention orders without any prior contact with the police or other agencies. Recognising that they had contact with many people who have experienced family violence but who might not be aware of available services, the Court was keen to be involved in the project. When people attend court to seek family violence intervention orders, the registrar follows the same process as the police in terms of providing information and faxing it back to Cooroonya House if permission is provided.

The local community legal centre, based in Wodonga, provides duty lawyer services to complainants at the Wangaratta Magistrates’ Court. As part of the project, a specific day has been set each week for intervention orders, to assist with better service provision to clients. A worker from the Victims Assistance Program is in attendance to support complainants each Wednesday and the legal centre provides training to local family violence workers on the Act and court procedure.

This first round of consultation by the VLRC will continue until June 2004, and will incorporate visits to other regional centres throughout Victoria. The VLRC is interested in hearing about positive attempts to improve the response to family violence, such as the Wangaratta Family Violence Intervention Project, in addition to gathering information about problems with the current intervention order system.

Contributed by the Victorian Law Reform Commission, tel 8619 8619, website

[1] Information about the project was obtained during a meeting with the project reference group on 27 February 2004 and from the Hume Region Family Violence Prevention Newsletter, Autumn 2003.


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