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Cite as: (2003) 77(8) LIJ, p.89

A new reference will examine national and international experiences to find the most effective ways of combating domestic violence.

In November 2002, Attorney-General Rob Hulls gave the Victorian Law Reform Commission (VLRC) terms of reference to review the Crimes (Family Violence) Act 1987. In recognition of the workload of the VLRC and the concentrated effort required to examine family violence issues, the Attorney-General announced that a new full-time commissioner would be appointed to undertake the reference. The position was advertised and the Governor-in-Council appointed Judith Peirce as a full-time VLRC commissioner on 8 July 2003. Ms Peirce, formerly vice-president of the Law Institute and manager of Brimbank Community Centre, has experience in dealing with family violence issues. The VLRC is delighted she has agreed to undertake the project.


In the 16 years since the introduction of the Crimes (Family Violence) Act there have been significant changes in attitudes towards family violence. There is now widespread understanding of the damage, often long standing, inflicted on victims including those children who witness violence.

In 2002, Victoria Police conducted a review into all matters related to violence against women. The review found that while family violence remains significantly under-reported, the number of police reports increased by 10.3 per cent between 2000 and 2001. The review also found that police responses to family violence did not meet community and victim expectations. Its main recommendations included an integrated approach to family violence, a code of practice for family violence, enhanced training of police and improved data collection.

While there has been an increase in the number of reports to police, the number of com plaints finalised under the Crimes (Family Violence) Act has remained fairly constant between 1995/96 and 2000/01. In that time there have been approximately 15,000 intervention orders finalised each year. However, there has been a rapid increase in the number of requests for intervention orders under the stalking provisions of the Crimes Act 1958 – an increase of almost 283 per cent in the seven year period to 2000/01. Overall, more than 20,000 orders were made in 2000/01 under the Crimes (Family Violence) Act and the Crimes Act 1958.[1]

Government and non-government agencies are working together to reduce violence against women under the Women’s Safety Strategy launched in October 2002. In response to the Victoria Police review, and as part of the Women’s Safety Strategy, the Office of Women’s Policy and Victoria Police have jointly established the Statewide Steering Committee to Reduce Family Violence. The Committee comprises key government and non-government representatives and was established to develop a best practice frame work for an integrated response to family violence. The current service system is extremely complex and it is difficult to provide the balance between prevention and response in service delivery. The Committee aims to ensure that police, courts, victim services, family violence services and other services work together to provide a coordinated response to victims and perpetrators of family violence.

Family violence continues to be the subject of a great deal of research and reform in its legal and practical aspects.

Given the variety of work being conducted on family violence, the Attorney-General considered that it was timely to review and evaluate the differing legal approaches to family violence and to examine whether any lessons can be learned from national and international experience. In undertaking the reference, the VLRC will take account of the work of the Committee.

Terms of Reference

The terms of reference were drafted following consultation with stakeholders within the justice system and domestic violence service providers. The VLRC is required to consider whether the Crimes (Family Violence) Act is based on a coherent philosophy and to undertake research to monitor the practical effect of any changes to police and Magistrates’ Court procedures.

National and international experience will be considered to ensure that there is the best available response. Part of the VLRC’s work will be to report on the development and coordination of programs and the delivery of educational programs.

The reference extends to the examination of family violence issues affecting culturally and linguistically diverse communities, indigenous people, people with disabilities and children.

Because of the nature of the reference there will be widespread community consultation. The review will take place over a two-year period with work on the reference due to commence early this month.

Contributed by the VICTORIAN LAW REFORM COMMISSION, tel 8619 8619. For the complete terms of reference and for information on progress of the project, see the VLRC’s website

[1] Statistics from Magistrates’ and Children’s Courts of Victoria: Intervention order statistics 1994/95–2000/01.


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