On 24 March 2021, a Bill was introduced in Commonwealth House of Representatives which proposes to strengthen existing protections for victims of family violence.
The Bill is formally known as the Family Law Amendment (Federal Family Violence Orders) Bill 2021.
If passed through Parliament, the proposed reform would establish criminally enforceable federal family violence orders which would be issuable by federal and West Australian family law courts.
How is this different to the current protections?
Family law courts can only impose personal protection injunctions with a civil penalty, meaning that victims of family violence have to commence separate proceedings in the Magistrates Court to access orders with a criminal penalty.
Commencing a separate application in a separate court can be a costly experience for the family violence victim, not to mention time consuming, stressful and confusing.
The proposed reform would streamline the current process and allow family law courts to issue federal family violence orders with criminally enforceable protection.
The current legislation places responsibility on family violence victims to make an application for a party’s breach of a personal protection injunction. This can be even more costly and lead to escalated conflict in family law proceedings between parties. Criminalised federal family violence orders would place the onus for enforcing these orders with police, rather than the victim.
Why is reform needed, now more than ever?
As the impact of COVID-19 and varying degrees of lock down linger on, so does the prevalence of stress, job losses, financial strain and health concerns linger on. These factors inevitably lead to an increase in family violence.
In April 2021, Dr Jacoba Brasch Q, President of the Law Council Australia referred to the “insidious and ubiquitous problem of family violence on a national level, which has been magnified by the COVID-19 pandemic.” Dr Brasch called for:
A coordinated national approach to family, domestic and sexual violence, as recommended within the recently released final report of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Social Policy and Legal Affairs’ inquiry into family, domestic and sexual violence…
The Commonwealth recognises this unprecedented spike in family and domestic violence and as a result, has committed unprecedented funds toward tackling the issue.
The 2021-22 Federal Budget placed significant focus on funding immediate support for victims of family and domestic violence, building on the National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children 2010-22 and the COVID-19 Family and Domestic Violence package.
It is hoped that additional funding for Family Courts and the passing of proposed reforms such as the Family Law Amendment (Federal Family Violence Orders) Bill 2021 are able to adequately address family violence.