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Judicial College of Victoria: Collaborating against family violence

Judicial College of Victoria: Collaborating against family violence

By Elanor Peattie

Criminal Procedure 


Multidisciplinary approaches involve a departure from the traditional adversarial model of justice to one that is collaborative and problem-solving.

Family violence is a serious and widespread problem in Australia with significant health, administration and social welfare costs. It’s now recognised that a multidisciplinary approach is required in both preventing family violence and responding to it through our legal and social systems. 

The Report of Victoria’s Royal Commission into Family Violence emphasised this need for better coordination and integration of services.1 Subsequent government and justice responses also reflect this directive, including the state government’s 10-year plan for ending family violence: “Our reforms will only be as effective as the people delivering them. Our new ways of working will require an effective, well supported, and multidisciplinary workforce, with the right people in the right positions across Victoria”.2

The specialist family violence courts being rolled out across Victoria build on the already existing specialist approaches in the Magistrates’ Court and aim to deliver an integrated multidisciplinary approach to family violence.3 They require the court and its surrounding agencies to work together to improve the safety of women and children and to hold perpetrators accountable for their use of violence. 

This involves a departure from the traditional adversarial model of justice to one that is collaborative and problem-solving in approach. It relies on a shared understanding of family violence, common practices and processes, strong relationships across organisations and an appreciation that managing risk is everyone’s responsibility. 

How do courts and their surrounding agencies make this shift to integration and collaboration? Multidisciplinary training is a key component of the transition. It provides a unique opportunity to engage in shared learning and discuss challenges and opportunities for innovation and reform. 

Research has shown that training in a multidisciplinary setting is important in building a common knowledge base and shared purpose, including insight into each other’s disciplines and roles. Those insights improve cohesion and respect for diversity, enabling robust but respectful conversations when necessary. Importantly, multidisciplinary training supports working collaboratively, which means multiple client needs can be met simultaneously.4

The Judicial College of Victoria is responsible for developing and delivering multidisciplinary training for the specialist family violence courts in Shepparton, Ballarat, Moorabbin, Frankston and Heidelberg. The aim is to bring together all those who work with parties in the family violence system to develop the necessary shared understanding and collaborative processes. It encompasses a broad audience including magistrates, court staff, court security, lawyers, police, Court Network, child protection, Aboriginal services, community corrections, family violence services and other local providers (for example, housing, mental health and drug and alcohol services). 

The program draws on a range of experts and academics in the areas of health, psychology, social work, law, policy and those with lived experience of family violence to share their expertise and knowledge. It focuses on creating a shared understanding of family violence and best practice communication, how to provide an inclusive and equitable response to all those coming before the court and multidisciplinary practice and self-care.

Each program is developed following extensive consultations with the court and relevant support organisations to ensure the content is appropriately targeted and tailored to the local context and audience. 

Feedback from those who have attended the training indicates that they value the unique opportunity to connect with and learn about other organisations. Organisations can be unknowingly working in silos and the training expands their knowledge of local service provision and referral pathways. It allows them to work through activities and problem solve together and provides a safe and supportive environment in which to explore the challenges that arise and how to overcome them. 

Most importantly, the training is proving to have a positive impact for those using the court. A few days after attending a training day a security officer observed a distressed family violence applicant yelling at a court registrar. The security officer used what they learnt at the training about trauma assisting the applicant to take some time to get a coffee and later reflected to the registrar: “See that’s why Friday was so good for me, I normally would have told her not to speak to you like that and to get out of the building”. 

Elanor Peattie is a senior education manager, Therapeutic Justice, at the Judicial College of Victoria (JCV) and manages the JCV multidisciplinary education programs. She is an experienced criminal lawyer who has practised extensively in specialist and solution-focused courts.

4. See, eg, Hyams, Ross L and Sadique, Denise, The Value of Incidental Learning in a Multidisciplinary Setting, International Journal of Clinical Legal Education, Issue 20, p439, 2014; and Schlossberg, D, Promoting Justice through Interdisciplinary Teaching, Practice and Scholarship: An Examination of Transactional Law Clinic and Interdisciplinary Education, 11(4) Legal Education Digest 5.

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